For America, Decline is a Choice


Editor's Note: The following is the third and final essay from Dr. William Martel on American Grand Strategy. We welcome our readers to review the first two parts of this series:

Part 1: America's Dangerous Drift

Part 2: A Roadmap For American Grand Strategy

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Part 3: A decline in America’s leadership role and the emergence of a highly unstable world is a serious possibility. In reality, decline is not a foregone conclusion but a deliberate political choice that builds from a failure to define what matters most to the nation.

It is imperative for the United States to articulate principles to guide its foreign policy. This is precisely what grand strategy does. The challenges are too great, and the stakes too high, for the United States to fail to articulate and pursue its core foreign policy objectives.

A number of challenges around the world pose serious risks for the United States, its allies, and partners. The goal for American grand strategy is to outline principles that guide U.S. policies, as a way to help policymakers reestablish the balance between the ends and means.

The United States has no practical choice but to align the necessity for strong leadership in foreign policy with an equally strong need for leadership at home, in order to rebuild the national foundations of power. A crucial element of America’s actions abroad will be working more with others and having a clearer sense of policies the American public will support. To implement grand strategy, the United States must carry out policies that align with the three principles outlined in my earlier essay.

Sadly, however, the disorganized approach to grand strategy is emblematic of the episodic and uneven quality of how American foreign policy operates. What the United States needs is a strategy for implementing its foreign policy in ways that respond to the sources of disorder examined earlier and help prepare the nation to confront future challenges and opportunities. The failure to advance a positive agenda for America’s role in the world will promote the belief that the nation is in decline.

Implementation at Home

A fundamental source of American influence in the world derives directly from the free-market economic underpinnings of U.S. national power. In reality, America, first and foremost, must devote greater time, attention, and resources to rebuilding the domestic foundations of its economy and power. This is the starting point to rebuilding America’s global influence.

To put this principle into practice, the United States will need to take several steps. If we consider the work conducted from the 1930s to the 1960s, the United States built a model for national success. Consider what America accomplished during those decades: a world-class infrastructure of roads, bridges, electric power grids, communications, and so forth. The result was to modernize the nation, build first-class industries, and create a more promising future for all Americans.

Meanwhile, the nation developed a world-class public education system, which gave the American people the skills to be competitive and productive members of society. Armed with these tools, the United States for decades was an uncontested economic superpower. America used to produce a higher percentage of college graduates than anywhere in the world. Now, America ranks much lower. To put it succinctly, the “American dream” looks much different than it used to. 

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