Five Paths to Global Respect

America’s international standing has plummeted. Here’s how we change that.

By Neera Tanden Katrina Mulligan

Tagged alliancesClimate ChangeCOVID-19Donald TrumpequalityForeign PolicyimmigrationWarworkers

Regardless of who wins the election, the next President will be sworn in during an unprecedented set of national crises, taking office in the wake of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and charged with leading a country that is badly divided and diminished in the eyes of the world. Most urgently, he will also have to confront a pandemic that has left over 215,000 Americans dead, infected over 7.6 million others, and undermined our national security.

In spite of this, January 2021 also brings with it a tremendous potential for positive change. It is in that spirit that the Center for American Progress has developed an actionable agenda that can be implemented within the first 100 days to advance a more principled and sustainable path internationally. This roadmap outlines bold, progressive ideas about early executive actions and dramatic changes we can make to rebalance investments in our security. At the heart of these reforms is an effort to reinvigorate our commitment to democracy and democratic values, a key priority given the hard lessons we have learned about their fragility in the past four years.

First, we must rebuild and modernize the national security institutions that keep Americans safe. The next administration will need to take steps to restore the public’s faith in these institutions and ensure that they are free from the kinds of political pressure wielded by President Trump. We cannot allow for a President to appropriate government institutions in order to go after political enemies or to utilize the intelligence community as a means to promote a political agenda. Instead, a new administration must restore trust and integrity, leading by words and deeds and committing to build a more diverse workforce that reflects the breadth of talent of the American people.

Second, America must recommit to living its values at home and around the world. President Trump has undermined our nation’s commitment to human rights and democracy, be it by separating migrant children from their parents or embracing dictators. This will take time. It will involve both sweeping reforms at home that tackle inequality, injustice, and corruption, and it will also involve presidential leadership on the international stage, be it by welcoming more refugees or strengthening our relationships with other democracies through a democratic strategic advantage initiative. U.S. foreign assistance should be reconfigured so that protecting human rights and rooting out corruption are core values. These values should reflect who receives American aid, presidential visits, and invitations to the White House.

Third, we need to end America’s endless wars and do so responsibly. Thousands of American soldiers, countless foreign civilians, and trillions of taxpayer dollars have been lost to ongoing wars—investments that have come at the expense of American competitiveness at home. The next administration must renew diplomatic efforts around the world to defuse tensions with Iran and create conditions for peace in Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen. We must also review our global security partnerships to develop a more resilient and sustainable counterterrorism approach that upholds our values. And we must place our military’s posture abroad on surer footing with the American people by, among other things, repealing and replacing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.

Fourth, we must recalibrate relationships with our allies and foes alike. President Trump has turned U.S. foreign policy upside down, embracing adversaries like Russia while eschewing those who have long been our closest partners. The next administration must redress this approach by strengthening relationships with our allies and working with them on issues that require multilateral solutions and international cooperation. The next administration should also take stock of whether U.S. interests are being well served by countries that operate at odds with our values. America must confront the threats posed by China— whether in trade, cyberspace, or in its undermining of human rights. As for Russia, we must stop Vladimir Putin’s attacks on our democracy.

Fifth, our country needs to address the greatest global challenges facing humanity. We need an international effort to combat climate change that reflects the magnitude of the crisis. Rejoining the Paris Agreement won’t be enough; the next administration must commit to centering climate in its foreign policy by explicitly articulating climate change as a diplomatic priority and by training a cohort of foreign service officers to prioritize climate issues in all bilateral and multilateral fora. We also need humane and pragmatic policies to address the greatest migration emergency in our lifetimes. We need a renewed commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. We need technology policies that advance our interests in both freedom of speech and security, and we should work with democratic and like-minded partners to advance these values in an international forum. Global multilateral organizations that can develop norms for these challenges and enforce them will be critical to our efforts.

These goals will not be achieved overnight, but as America has faced new challenges, we have also seen our democratic vibrancy and civic activism expand. Millions of Americans have taken to the streets to stand up for women’s rights and racial justice, while millions more have organized their friends and colleagues to vote or run for office. The American people have the capacity to change this country. By taking these steps, America can place our values at the center of its foreign policy and secure a brighter future for people both at home and abroad.

Read more about alliancesClimate ChangeCOVID-19Donald TrumpequalityForeign PolicyimmigrationWarworkers

Neera Tanden is president of the Center for American Progress. 

Also by this author

Holding Trump—and Future Trumps—Accountable

Katrina Mulligan is the managing director for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress, and a former attorney adviser and director for preparedness and response in the National Security Division at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Click to

View Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus