Policymakers and scholars must remember that grand strategy embraces vastly more than foreign policy. American influence derives precisely from the free-market economic underpinnings that give the nation such immense influence – often permitting it to marshal tremendous power when it is necessary to do so. If America is to remain a global leader, as many Americans believe it should, then it must recommit itself first to reinforcing the domestic foundations of America’s national power. To express this another way: When the nation ignores the domestic foundations of power, it will court disasters, often unfolding in slow motion, as the will of American society lags behind its commitments.
With global powers standing in ruins after World War II, the United States used its national power as a leading actor on an unprecedented scale to rebuild many of its closest allies today. Throughout the 20th century, America also built its own world-class infrastructure – a national network of industries, roads, bridges, schools, electric power grids, and energy infrastructure.
Without that investment and the national consensus it symbolized, the United States could not have been such an effective force on the world stage. Infrastructure is as an important instrument of American national power for competing economically as are armies, navies, and air forces for defending its interests.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Nor can policymakers and scholars forget the critical role of education, health care, and social safety systems for ensuring broad opportunities for all Americans. U.S. grand strategy cannot be effective until we restore the infrastructure and social safety nets that assure all Americans of the opportunity to compete and succeed. America's global role derives from the strength of its people, its ability to be innovative, and the entrepreneurial spirit that Americans harness to solve the most daunting challenges.
This, however, is not a prescription for throwing “more money than god” at problems. Simply spending money is unlikely to reinforce the foundations of American power. For that, the nation needs a political consensus, largely absent from the national debate, and resources. It is time to rebuild the American spirit of innovation, hard work, ingenuity, and collective action.
Such considerations, while often subordinated or ignored altogether in the national debate, are as central to foreign policy as just about everything else we do. These ideas, however, seem always to fall by the wayside as debates about foreign policy and national security compete for policymakers’ time and attention.
For the public, the daily onslaught of media reports – Iran, Egypt, North Korea, Russia, China, European Union, energy, or the crisis of the moment – shift vital attention away from the domestic sources of power that define American influence and are central to its grand strategy. Rebuilding the national foundations of American power, on which grand strategy rests, is essential to dealing with a world whose innumerable risks and opportunities demand American leadership.
To be direct, emphasizing the domestic foundations of power is not a call for the United States to withdraw from the world or see its leadership decline. It is a call for realigning the nation’s grand strategy. With this realignment, American policymakers and the public once again can, strategically and effectively, rebalance how the nation allocates resources to meet the demands imposed by foreign and domestic challenges and opportunities.
This is the right time, as friends and allies urge the United States to maintain an active leadership role, for the American people and their policymakers to realign the nation’s policies.