Foreign Policy "Requires Collective Action" Too
Posted by David Shorr
But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.
January 21, 2013
The relatively scant discussion of the wider world in the president's second inaugural address has left some of us foreign policy types hungry for more, but I don't see a big problem. President Obama captured the main points concisely -- the folly of "perpetual war," the need to seek peaceful resolution of differences, support for the spread not only of freedom, but hope for the economically and socially marginalized. He also gave special emphasis to the challenge of climate change, and rightly so.
Even with the speech's primary focus on our country's own polity and social contract, though, it isn't hard to connect the dots between President Obama's domestic and foreign policy approaches. I chose the key passage quoted above because of its relevance to the challenges America confronts both at home and abroad.
Picking up where last year's campaign left off, the president wanted to highlight the limits of self-reliance and individualism. To view America solely as a loose association of individuals is wilfully blind to practical realities. Only through combined efforts, commitments, resources -- and, yes, the structures of government -- do individuals have a context in which they can thrive and succeed.
The idea that a portion of society can thrive while the larger part struggles is a fantasy, and a dangerous one. We mustn't lose sight of the degree to which our fate is a shared one -- the reality that we rise or fall together. And as this truth holds for our country, it is equally true for our world. President Obama acknowledged as much in his address: "we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation."
Sometimes I label my worldview and approach to foreign policy as "interdependent-ist." The underlying perspective about our all being "in it together" is, I think, basically what President Obama talked about today. I also think it's been evident in his foreign policy. My friend Nina Hachigian and I recently published our theory of Obama foreign policy, which we call "The Responsibility Doctrine," in the latest issue of Washington Quarterly. To a greater degree than appreciated, President Obama's foreign policy has been a steady drive to get other nations to help tackle shared international challenges. If you're one of those who's looking for a little more foreign policy here on inauguration day (after all, you're reading a foreign policy blog), you might want to read the whole thing.