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The National Foreign Policy Agenda – Phase I

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Antwain Leach
February 20, 2015

leach  -National Security Strategy ImageWith the traditional invocation ceremonies for both the White House and Congress behind us, the legislative session of the 114th Congress is now officially underway. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last month not only articulated the priorities for the national government, but it also set the nation’s agenda for the year. In terms of international affairs, Mr. Obama stressed the need for America to continue its vigorous campaign against terrorism, while also adhering to its present policy of constrained internationalism.

Based upon its experiences with leaders and countries from around the world over the past five years, the White House last month also released its official National Security Strategy (NSS). The NSS lists the president’s global priorities and it is often perceived as the administration’s most coherent framework from which to understand the contours of America’s current grand strategy. Dr. Susan Rice, the current National Security Advisor, oversaw the development of this major project. At a public meeting in Washington last week, she summarized the four core elements of the NSS:

  • Security.
  • Economic strength.
  • Promotion of democracy and human values.
  • Continued advancement of a liberal international order.

Dr. Rice also mentioned that it was the White House’s goal to move beyond simply responding to the crisis of the day and toward “pursuing a vision of the world as it can and should be.”

Responding both to Mr. Obama’s expressed priorities, as well as to the myriad international complexities facing America’s current and future relations with the world, members of Congress have also jumped to an early start in constructing their focus points for the year. One of Congress’s first items of business concerning international affairs this year, was the confirmation hearings for Ashton Carter to replace Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary. Mr. Carter has spent over 20 years with the Defense Department and served as Mr. Hagel’s Deputy Secretary of Defense from 2011-2013.

Leaders on Capitol Hill intend to not only open its purse to the other branches of government, but to also play a more active role at every stage of the foreign policymaking process and step-up its role in providing fervent oversight in its subsequent implementation. As a way to provide themselves with the necessary knowledge and tools to effectuate this vision for governing, members of Congress have conducted hearings and invited distinguished guests to provide testimony on their estimation of America’s unique position and role in the world.

For instance, the Senate Armed Services Committee, headed by Sen. John McCain, invited three former Secretaries of State to give their expert opinion on topics relating to American foreign policy and international affairs in general. These three guests of honor included: Dr. Henry Kissinger, Dr. George Schultz, and Dr. Madeleine Albright. Each of these three former statesmen listed the threat of terrorism, threats emanating from Iran and economic volatility as the most pressing issues threatening American security.

The Senate Armed Services Committee also invited Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski and Gen. Brent Scowcroft, both former National Security Advisors, to give testimony on threats to national security and to proffer recommendations on strategies to best address them. An area of concern for Dr. Brzezinski was that of recent Russian aggression in Ukraine and of the type of response needed in order to simmer tensions in Eastern Europe and the increasing restlessness of American allies both within and near the region. Another area of concern emphasized by both Dr. Brzezinski and Lt. Gen. Scowcroft, involved the nation’s alarming vulnerability to cyber-attacks by lone-wolf hackers, non-state actors and other hostile nations. As an example of the type of damage such an assault could potentially inflict upon our relatively open Internet apparatus, they cited a recent major cyber-attack on Saudi Arabia initiated by Iran. This attack effectively brought down a host of Saudi Arabia’s official governmental networks and levied major damage to their technological infrastructure.

Noticeable common themes that ran through both of these committee hearings included the need to rethink the use of sequestration in crafting the defense budget. Both groups of panelists believed that policy planning under the conditions of sequestration undercut the integrity of national defense and that it undermined what America needed to do. Another common theme involved the need for the White House and Congress to increase their lines of communication and develop more opportunities to present bipartisan approaches to issues related to national security. With a Democrat in the White House and with the Republicans in control of Congress, the opportunities to unite behind common initiatives are immense. Due to the growing number of challenges and threats to American values, both at home and around the world, the need for a unified approach to foreign policy is long overdue.

Author: Antwain Leach, MPA, was previously employed as a congressional aide in the office of former Congressman Bart Gordon. He is the current president of the Center for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, a think tank that provides management consulting services. His scholarly research focuses on Congress and its relationship to the conduct and formation of U.S. foreign policy. You can reach Mr. Leach at [email protected].

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