AMERICA’S GLOBAL standing, and its ability to achieve crucial ends at affordable cost and with acceptable risk, need to be revitalized. The superpower that won the Cold War and managed the democratic transitions that followed must itself transform today if it is to thrive, and lead, tomorrow. There is an American identity, distinguished by its ingenious rights-based code, designed to immunize the republic from potentially toxic divisions over religion, ethnicity, race, age, gender, or political or social orientation. It should be celebrated as America’s greatest strength, worthy of emulation in a world wracked by tribal mistrust.
Success in the twenty-first century will be defined by a convergence of interests with large powers and small countries alike—a peaceful, free, orderly and prosperous international order. In 2017, this seems at best a distant possibility. The strategic horizon toward which policies, plans and programs should be oriented is a future in which the United States faces fewer pressures to appease hostile adversaries or countenance Orwellian tyranny imposed by foreign governments on hapless citizens.
The sustained focus of the national-security effort, accordingly, should be to promote accepted norms of governance and state conduct—reliably, consistently and in coordination with others. Emerging powers should find greater reward in accommodating the historical forces favoring participatory, transparent, accountable, ethical and rules-based governance, fulfilling the implied social contract between people and those entrusted with managing their sovereign franchise. Undemocratic and predatory countries will be with us for some time, but one should hope never to find them repressing or stealing from their own people with American complicity.
Many countries today perceive their future to be at risk from states and nonstate actors transgressing international norms with self-serving motives. The path to greater stability for all is a rejuvenation of the American role, principled and inclusive, that alone can mobilize others to isolate and disempower malign forces. American greatness arose not from military superiority alone, but because a national commitment to foster progress and human potential inspired others to embrace their better aspirations. A revival of American purpose and vision isn’t an option. It is a must.
Lincoln Bloomfield Jr. is chairman emeritus of the Stimson Center. He held positions in the State and Defense Departments and the White House under the previous five Republican administrations. Tom Harvey is founder and chairman of the Global Environment and Technology Foundation. He drafted the legislation requiring the National Security Strategy (NSS) and wrote the first NSS for President Reagan in 1987.