Foreign policy in a time of domestic disarray

Putting America's foreign policy in its rightful place

What exactly is the role for U.S. foreign policy in a time of incapable leadership, widespread corruption, authoritarian overreach, and domestic disarray in America? As someone who has spent several years in foreign policy academia through graduate school and as both a practitioner and reporter in the space, it has understandably come as a surprise to many that I’ve taken to sometimes pivoting to other issues rather than my most consistent area of engagement. In the United States, foreign policy has become over prioritized, over monetized, and further corrupted to the point in which it’s worth taking a step back to analyze what exactly has gone so horrifically wrong over the 21st century of foreign policymaking. Instead of just getting bogged down with every niche issue on the subject matter, it’s time to take a look at the macro problems with foreign policy in America in 2021 and how we should address them.

The issues surrounding U.S. foreign policy today can be broken down into three separate categories.

First and foremost, Foreign policy is a more appropriate agenda item for a country that has its domestic affairs in order. While it’s important to address the various threats posed by our Great Power adversaries, it’s impossible to do so without fixing our house first. Much of our country remains plagued in a state of ongoing COVID-related insanity, with millions of Americans having embraced and even enforced inhumane authoritarianism and incredible human rights abuses in the name of fighting a virus. And COVID Mania has helped to pour fuel on the fire that is America facing the worst civil strife in decades. Yes, it’s important to discuss China, but first we must prevent our country from transforming into a country that has adopted the top-down ideology and practices of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). If America fully transforms into a country that no longer represents the America of our proud history and our founding principles, what exactly is the point of talking about this country’s overseas issues and role in the world?

Second, the ruling class in the United States, and in particular, the D.C. beltway power brokers, have long dramatically overemphasized the importance of foreign policy to the health of our nation. Similar to stocks on the Nasdaq currently sporting valuations that are hundreds of times over earnings, foreign policy remains an incredibly overvalued category of interest. There are dozens of well-funded niche think tanks in D.C. with soaring budgets that continue to command a commitment from lawmakers on issues that are completely inconsequential to 99.9999% of Americans. Our country is spending hundreds of billions of dollars a year on items of interest exclusively to the elites, and for the elites, at the expense of the everyday American. The overcommitment to foreign policy and under commitment to more important issues facing our nation reveals itself in many ways. Recently, it is highlighted by politicians, pundits, and policymakers obsessing over the rights of Russians, Iranians, Tibetans and others living under genuinely authoritarian regimes. However, these same actors routinely fail to address the amazing human rights-abuses being committed by actors within the Biden Administration and by state Governors against American citizens. 

Third, the 21st century foreign policy and wartime decisions made by our “elites” have had disastrous consequences for Americans both here and abroad. And yet, American foreign policy remains conducted by the same closed network of unimpressive, failed ideologues who are entirely responsible for the catastrophes of pre and post-9/11 wartime and diplomatic decision making. Instead of advocating for a change in foreign policy, we must first change both the way we evaluate foreign policy and the system that elevates foreign policymakers to positions of importance. 

I recently rediscovered Jeane Kirkpatrick’s incredible essay, “A Normal Country in a Normal Time,” which inspired this column, and was published in the Fall, 1990 edition of The National Interest. It has greatly helped to both clarify and challenge the way I think about foreign policy. It’s attached below: