At the start of its sixth year, the Obama administration runs the risk of remaining intellectually stuck, cleaning up the inheritance of the Bush years. Yet major global changes, including the rise of other powers and widespread social protests for dignity, require a forward-looking moral framework for U.S. engagement. A clearer vision is necessary to rally public support and votes in Congress for key agenda items, such as a possible nuclear deal with Iran and proposed future trade deals with Europe and Asia. It is important for Obama to do this because Republicans are sharply divided on foreign policy and Obama’s own party looks for him to lead.
The administration’s planned release this year of a new national security strategy offers a chance to make a clearer argument for global engagement with three core elements.
First, it must make a case for how its global economic agenda, including proposed trade agreements with Asia and Europe, would benefit Americans and expand growth while meeting the president’s aspirations of reducing domestic inequality.
Second, it must demonstrate how the government will keep Americans safe while protecting our core values. Obama’s record here is mixed: He has brought troops home and kept the homeland safe, but threats from terrorist networks have morphed abroad. The principles Obama has outlined for reining in NSA surveillance and drone strikes must be applied with real actions to rebuild confidence in U.S. leadership.
Third, Obama must tell the world more clearly what we stand for and what costs we are willing to bear to advance the causes of freedom and dignity — and not shy away from the toughest cases. From Ukraine to the Middle East to China, the struggle to advance freedom endures, and many see a growing American reticence to engage on this complicated front. Egypt will present an important test — in the coming weeks, the administration will face calls on whether to certify that Egypt is on a path toward democracy.