America Needs a Bipartisan Foreign Policy. Donald Trump Can Make It Happen.

America Needs a Bipartisan Foreign Policy. Donald Trump Can Make It Happen.

A new approach must consider not just elites’ perceptions and preferences but also those of the public.


Third, to combat terrorist and extremist groups in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater, the Trump administration will need to review U.S. policies in both countries and decide how best to foster an Afghanistan that is not a base for terrorists and can assist the United States in the broader generational struggle against extremism in the region.

The administration will also need to confront the challenge of how to get Pakistan to end its support for violent extremists and terrorists. U.S. leverage over Islamabad includes targeting terrorist and extremist leaders in Pakistan; reducing assistance to the country, including resources provided through the IMF and World Bank; and sanctioning it as a state sponsor of terrorism. On the other hand, if Pakistan verifiably changes course, the United States should be open to increased cooperation.


Further, the United States should engage with the major players in the region, particularly Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to encourage a regional dialogue. The United States should help create a forum, perhaps analogous to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to begin such a dialogue to defuse sectarian divisions and national rivalries. This organization should be founded on a charter that articulates the principle of mutual acceptance by Shia and Sunnis, and that initiates a process to resolve conflicts and to find areas of mutual cooperation. While differences among these powers are deep, this forum and dialogue could begin a process of reconciliation.

WILL AMERICAN domestic politics constrain President Trump’s ability to achieve an enduring bipartisan consensus in foreign policy? That could happen, given the polarization of the parties and the take-no-prisoners character of our politics in recent decades. An antidote may be businessman Trump’s proclivity to engage with all parties to a problem and search for a deal that works for everyone. He writes that finding creative solutions to thorny problems is what he likes to do best. His greatest opportunity may be in forging bipartisanship on foreign policy.

In this regard, President Trump should cultivate new mechanisms for developing a common worldview and agenda among leaders of the two parties. Broad consensus on the fundamentals of America’s foreign policy is essential to regaining U.S. preeminence in global affairs. The abrupt reversals of recent years as the presidency passed between political parties has degraded the effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy, eroded the confidence of allies and emboldened rival powers. America’s ability to lead and to exert influence to shape a more peaceful and prosperous world requires strategic patience.

Trump should consider involving congressional leaders of both parties in an extensive policy review to assess how the United States can meet the world’s mounting threats in a manner consistent with America’s internal demands and public opinion. He also should consider making use of bipartisan presidential commissions, for which there is historic precedent. Harry S. Truman’s Hoover Commission, for example, succeeded in reorganizing the executive branch with bipartisan buy-in.

A domestic consensus may not be restored completely, especially at the outset of the new administration, but it may well grow if policies are perceived to be effective in reducing instability and threats and in forging international cooperation toward U.S. goals, even with states with which America does not share values.

The situation in the world is too dangerous for a new bipartisan foreign policy to embrace minimalism. It must be carefully tailored to securing U.S. interests and promoting a more stable world. Both parties can subscribe to that agenda. And if the U.S. economy gets stronger, and allies and partners play their specified roles and bear the requisite burden, U.S. policy can be affordable and sustainable. If President Trump pursues this path, he could end up rivaling Ronald Reagan as a foreign-policy leader.

Zalmay Khalilzad, a former director of policy planning in the Department of Defense, was the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations.

Image: Soldiers during a squad fire range at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany. Flickr/U.S. Army