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U.S. National Security: A Strategy of Engagement and Hope

What is an alternative vision to President Bush's conduct of U.S. foreign policy?

March 1, 2004

What is an alternative vision to President Bush's conduct of U.S. foreign policy?

Whether in the White House or on the campaign trail, the message about our security is rooted in fear — fear of terrorists, fear of weapons of mass destruction, fear of ricin in the mailbox.

Americans are conditioned to turn in fear to the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, hoping to be protected from these fears.

In contrast, the real success stories of U.S. national security policy have not been rooted in fear. They draw on a long-standing American tradition of hope, leadership and international engagement.

These usually succeeded because they call on all the tools of American statecraft, merging considerable military power with skilled diplomacy, accurate intelligence — and sound economic strategy.

It is this synergy that has enabled the United States of America to lead, generally by engaging the rest of the world in address fundamental security problems.

Remember the times when Americans feared poverty and war? It was President Roosevelt who told them that they had nothing to fear, but fear itself.

FDR exercised American leadership by engaging a struggling world — and creating institutions that provided the framework for U.S. leadership and international cooperation for 50 years.

Harry Truman took this agenda of hope and engagement forward, creating the Marshall Plan, NATO and promoting greater unity in Western Europe. John F. Kennedy gave the world hope and leadership through the Peace Corps and the Alliance for Progress.

Bill Clinton, the eternal optimist from Hope, put his emphasis on promoting democracy and economic growth.

A strategy based on hope, leadership and engagement trumps a strategy of fear. The next administration needs to step past the context of fear — terrorists and suitcase bombs.

It will have to recognize that these dangers — while manifestly real — can only be solved when the United States leads and engages on the global agenda.

In doing so, it should use all the tools of statecraft — tools ignored in the recent past — supported by our global military and political power.

The primary challenge to U.S. national security lies in the "Arc of Crisis" — ranging from Africa through the Middle East, Central and South Asia, Southeast Asia and North Korea.

The severe disparities of income, fundamentalist religious beliefs, ethnic struggles and weak or failed governance in that arc are the breeding ground for terrorism, global crime, proliferation — and ethnic strife.

Reaching for the gun alone, as the United States has done for the past three years, will not address these fundamental problems. Worse, doing so with minimal international support becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The approach fosters the very thing it is designed to deter — more terrorists and more proliferation.

Meanwhile, the other tools of U.S. statecraft are withering. We have no international economic strategy to address the twin problems of domestic inequality and state weakness.

U.S. diplomacy is trapped in a turf struggle with the Department of Defense. And the chief diplomat — Secretary of State Colin Powell — backs away from any confrontation with the agenda of fear.

In addition, the U.S. intelligence apparatus has become overly politized, losing much credibility in the process.

This "one note Johnny" national security strategy has near-bankrupted America's international leadership — and it fosters only greater fear at home and abroad.

A winning alternative is needed. It would put global financial stability, economic growth and strong, responsive governance at the center of U.S. national security strategy.

Healthy economies, strong, responsive states and vibrant civil societies are the only certain route to global hope and greater security at home.

Meeting these goals is the only way to drain the terrorist swamp, weaken international criminal cartels and drug trafficking — and reducing the fear that leads to proliferation over the long term.

The Bush Administration's Millennium Challenge Fund is not the way to tackle this fundamental problem. It is nice for countries that are already at the edge of takeoff.

But it is irrelevant to countries that are the seed bed of fundamentalism, poverty and failed states. It wastes valuable resources on a secondary objective.

The next administration needs to define an integrated, interagency strategy for economic and political support in nations in the arc of crisis. This strategy needs to include nation-building as a central objective.

Institutionally, it needs to bring all the agencies of the U.S. government together to create a routinized process for dealing with post-conflict and failed state situations.

It needs to overcome the current hapless practice of an ad hoc "discovery" of this problem every time we are engaged in a foreign crisis.

The United States needs to create a core of "nation developers" and a core "policing capability" to take these missions out of the hands of the military.

This integrated strategy needs to pay attention to — not ignore — basic international fiscal relationships and institutions.

The job of the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury is not to talk down the dollar. It is to stabilize currency relationships, working with other countries and the European Union.

The job of the U.S. Trade Representative is to strengthen the global trading system and ensure its fairness. If international economic, trade and financial institutions need to be reformed, the United States needs to step up to the agenda of reform — instead of carping.

The next administration's national security strategy needs to open a global religious and ethnic dialogue, especially with Islam, to foster change and understanding.

It needs to drop the current practice of endlessly recycling Madison Avenue techniques into the government, ending time and again in a failed attempt to brainwash Islam into democracy and good behavior.

It means real engagement with liberalizing forces in the Islamic world, not a rhetorical band-aid.

There will need to be a fundamental change in our engagement in the Middle East peace process as well.

This is one of the toughest world problems there are. But it will not be solved by ignoring the basic conflict in the region — and leaving it to Israel to solve.

The only progress ever made in the region was through active U.S. engagement. That fallen banner of leadership and engagement needs to be picked up again.

It also means developing an agenda for reform in the United Nations, instead of attacking it and threatening to withdraw. The UN is a context for U.S. leadership. We Americans need to engage its other members in strengthening that context.

A new strategy would fundamentally reverse the current U.S. approach to alliances. They are not distractions or "permission slips" for American action.

They are the most fundamental way to leverage our power internationally, through cooperation. "It's my way or the highway" is no way to lead.

Instead of backing into panicked emergency calls to friends and allies when we get into trouble, they should be helping us with avoiding the trouble to begin with.

We could start in Japan and simply work our way around the globe, patching up inadvertent and calculated wounds — and pulling allies into the nation-building, policing and economic assistance agenda.

In particular, this will mean repairing the damage we have done to our European relationship. Instead of dividing our closest friends and allies into "old" and "new," we need to develop an agenda that supports European moves toward global engagement and a common defense capability.

If we mean what we say, encouraging the process of European integration will produce the supporting capability for the leadership we want.

We also need a true international strategy to address the plagues and infectious diseases that weaken economies, destroy government leadership and lead to civil strife — instead of making empty promises and starving global efforts to achieve this end.

An international engagement — from the start of the next administration, to define and fund global disease reduction — will win global support.

The United States also needs a strong military to support this strategy of hope, leadership and engagement. But we should not be asking the military to do the whole job — or to do it by themselves.

The U.S. military is the best in the world and the only one with a global mission and global transportation, logistics, intelligence and presence. However, put at the service of a "one note" strategy focusing on terrorists and WMD, the U.S. military will be endlessly overstretched.

In contrast, put at the service of a strategy of global leadership and engagement, engaging all the tools of statecraft, our military will win allied support. It can then play an important, role, winning wars when needed, backing up strong diplomacy to achieve the broader agenda.

Finally, the next administration needs to pry the politics out of our intelligence machinery, do a wholesale cleaning of its leadership, turn the job back to the professionals — and call for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

A real strategy of leadership and engagement is best served by letting the intelligence agencies shine at what they do best — telling it straight.

The American people will emerge from the dungeon of fear and the world will respond to U.S. leadership — if the next administration moves in these directions.

Until then, the spiral of fear will continue, the military will be overburdened, and the dangers will only grow.