Bridging the foreign policy divide
On February 6, GMF Brussels hosted an event on the future of U.S. foreign policy entitled "Bridging the foreign policy divide." Tod Lindberg from the National Review and David Shorr from the Stanley Foundation discussed their latest project; a compilation of papers by prominent Democratic and Republican experts on foreign policy challenges.
The aim of the project was to build a more constructive debate by looking past partisan philosophical differences and identifying effective approaches to the major national security challenges of the United States. The experts examined issues on their merits and cut through the distortions and over simplifications of the current polarized political climate. The topics addressed in the discussion included China, the war on terrorism, the UN, use of force, promotion of democracy, and nation building.
Mr.Lindberg and Mr. Shorr described a productive consensus building process through which they were seeking a new way forward. How this new way forward is going to be developed depends on the next U.S. administration. As the panelists said the public debate around the election campaign does not reflect the approach of decision makers in the next administration. Their decisions will be determined by the policy space available, and they will not start with a blank sheet of paper. What is known is that there will probably be corrections to the more unilateral approach of the Bush years, but whether this will be an "overcorrection"toward a real multilateralist approach or a softer transition is all still up in the air.
There were three main points for a European audience to take away from this discussion. First, the topics chosen deliberately avoided issues that are too complicated internationally and are too divisive in left-right terms. These issues were replaced by middle-ground issues hoping to promote bipartisanship. Second, the idea of positive-sum bipartisanship was presented. Mr. Lindberg generalized that Democrats tend to be better at cooperation and Republicans tend to be better at understanding the power game. The synergy of both approaches can reinforce instead of divide the U.S. foreign policy. Third, there was a warning that Europeans, in making judgments about the U.S. foreign policy, should follow the presidential campaign debates more carefully. Issues such as negative perceptions of the United States abroad and the idea of threat in the foreign policy discourse are discussed both in- and outside the administration and change is being seriously considered.
Seen from this perspective, the United States is more in need of a partner capable of proposing policy options instead of voicing only critiques. Both sides of the Atlantic are not that far apart in their ideas and could form a real partnership. The United States does not need the world's support to act, but it does need it to succeed.