American Leadership: Not Just Red or Blue

December 22, 2015 By Sean Hansen

In the midst of impassioned presidential debates on national security following the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, a recent report by the American Enterprise Institute makes a powerful case for why America should not scale back its global leadership, but instead must leverage its influence to support the liberal world order it has helped establish.

Spearheaded by former U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Jon Kyl (R-MO), the report argues that if the U.S. were to retreat from its global leadership, it would leave a vacuum of power that almost certainly would be filled by actors that are hostile to America’s values and national interests.

Even as today’s political climate makes bipartisanship particularly challenging, the authors contend that there should be a consensus when it comes to American leadership—and that means embracing all the tools of American foreign policy, including diplomacy, development, and democracy, alongside defense. As they say in the report, “too often we tend to overlook America’s crucial hand in waging peace, dampening rivalries, and helping to resolve conflict. We similarly tend to underappreciate the importance of some of the bedrock tools of international engagement, including American diplomacy, foreign assistance, economic assistance, people-to-people programs, and public-private partnerships. These tools all help to ensure that military force remains an option of last resort.” As retired four-star General James Mattis so eloquently stated, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

In addition to strengthening our national security, these tools further other strategic national interests as well. Investments in economic development form the foundation for American businesses to flourish in developing countries, thus sparking economic growth here at home. International financial markets also benefit from American leadership because as the report states, “U.S. leadership is crucial to maintain the openness of the Internet and the free flow of data globally—the equivalent to sea lanes in the 21st century.” U.S. humanitarian assistance showcases the values that America stands for as a nation and as a people, garnering goodwill towards America.

Just recently, the House demonstrated strong bipartisan support for effective foreign assistance when it unanimously passed the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015. The bill, which was introduced by Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA), works to institutionalize transparency and data-driven decision making in America’s foreign assistance programs. Its companion legislation in the Senate, which is still awaiting passage, is sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD).

History has demonstrated that both America and the world are more prosperous and safe and when America is actively engaged in the world. Looking forward, the question we should be asking is not whether the United States should be engaged in the world, but how it can best exercise this leadership.

Image: MOJO, ETHIOPIA – DECEMBER 12, 2011: Mr.  Abebaw Gessese received a $128,000 loan from Dashen Bank, thanks to USAID’s Development Credit Authority. The loan enabled him to expand his poultry farm and employ more workers (half of which are women), add to the country’s economy, increase exports, provide additional protein for clients, and clean water for the local community through his well. Photo by Morgana Wingard, Flickr – CC