Our country has finally left Afghanistan after a 20-year stay.
Although the exit could have been smoother in the beginning, approximately 122,000 people were lifted out of the country. Unfortunately, we lost 13 service members and 169 Afghan allies in the exit. Hopefully, this county has learned how futile it is to try to dominate the four corners of the globe with a network of military bases, a strategy that has prevailed since the end of the Cold War, a strategy followed by presidents Democratic and Republican.
Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there’s been a collapse in consensus about the nature of U.S. foreign policy amongst citizens. In addition, citizens are politically polarized. President Donald Trump, Biden’s predecessor, led a foreign policy that alienated our friends and foes. While Trump wanted our allies to spend more money on defense, he offered the public bloated military budgets. Aside from the Afghanistan withdraw, Biden initiated a review of the United States’ global military posture (it looks like there won’t be forward deployments) and has also taken steps to stabilize the U.S.-Russian relationship, as stated by Emma Ashford in her story “Strategies of Restraint: Remaking America’s Foreign Policy.”
America must level with itself on its post-Cold War foreign policy. What has happened? Democracy is in decline, there are more state-level conflicts than at any time since 1990, the war on terrorism has failed, and China’s rise has given the lie to the idea that the United States can prevent the emergence of peer competitors. Washington’s foreign policy community now appears to accept the need for a course correction.
Ashford points out the three distinct views Americans hold on foreign policy. The liberal-internationalist view of working toward a rules-based order views China and Russia as threats to that order rather than to our interests. It also sees the democratic republic as a way of life to be promoted around the world. The form of foreign policy favored by Trump represented belligerent unilateralism that prioritizes maintaining U.S. military power but isn’t crazy about long-term commitments. It also rejects diplomacy or arms control as a method of security. The last viewpoint, which Ashford calls restraint, sees our foreign policy as too militarized and wants for the United States to police its own hemisphere via offshore balancing, or balancing other powers via policing our hemisphere. International relations theorists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt advocate a strategy of offshore balancing and a downsizing the United States’ global military role.
Ashford gives us an idea of how broad the consciousness for a new foreign policy really is: “academic realists but also by progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans in Congress, as well as various antiwar groups (such as Code Pink and the Friends Committee on National Legislation) and newer entrants into the antiwar space (such as the veterans’ group Common Defense). Thus, the term 'restraint' is now used as often to signify this broader political movement as it is to describe a grand strategy. Consider the congressional activism around ending U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a movement that was spearheaded by two liberals, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, and two Republicans, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah. Or consider the strange bedfellows made by the war in Afghanistan. In the House of Representatives, advocates of withdrawal included Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the standard bearer of the Democratic Party’s left wing, and Matt Gaetz of Florida, a Republican devotee of Trump.”
Our country needs to rebuild internally if we are going to be a quality example of a democratic republic. At least we’ve concluded that the militarization of our foreign policy is a bad idea. Kathleen Hicks, currently U.S deputy secretary of defense, has proposed a limited retrenchment to that would have our country $20 to $30 billion a year, a wonderful plan.
Ashford recommends a foreign policy that’s “realist yet prudent.” I would love for our country to massively cut back on forward deployments and concentrate on policing our hemisphere with the other countries in it. Other powers could do the same. Taking a more internationalist stance, we should cooperate with our adversaries like China and Russia to tackle climate change and prevent wars between the powers. This path — a positive use of the power of several nation states — would put the world on the path to order and would give our country the funds to invest internally and make our republic more democratic!
Executive director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis