The world is falling apart, yet foreign policy has scarcely registered in the Democratic presidential primary campaign. Stump speeches center on health care, jobs, taxes, infrastructure, and other domestic concerns. Apart from former Vice President Joe Biden, no candidate can claim broad foreign policy expertise or hands-on experience in diplomacy, a resume gap that doesn’t seem to matter much. Voters surveyed have made clear that they care mostly about domestic priorities, creating little incentive for candidates to talk about complicated and sometimes recondite subjects that don’t energize the base.
When international considerations register at all on the campaign trail, it is often in terms that relate back to domestic policy—invigorating U.S. democracy so it can serve as a more potent example abroad, or promoting economic competitiveness to increase trade leverage. Domestic renewal is indeed necessary for foreign policy success. But it is not sufficient. Nor is it enough for candidates to pledge to undo the most egregious missteps of the Trump era. Without a rousing, affirmative vision for its role in the world, America will falter in the battle of ideas that Russia and China are waging with the tacit support of an expanding circle of authoritarians. From the campaign conversation thus far, you’d never guess that, as France’s United Nations ambassador François Delattre recently put it in in a plaintive New York Times op-ed, “the world is growing more dangerous and less predictable by the day.” The seasoned diplomat judged that “the crucial choices Americans and Europeans are facing are comparable in scope to those we confronted together in the aftermath of World War II.” Dozens of foreign policy experts, of various ideological profiles, have sounded alarm bells about the spread of autocracy and the foundering of classic liberal values worldwide. While these warnings may for now resonate mostly within what Barack Obama adviser Ben Rhodes once memorably derided as the “blob” of U.S. foreign policy thinkers, their implications will touch us all.
The young voters whom the Democratic candidates are courting most ardently seem particularly indifferent to matters beyond our borders. In April 2019, a Harvard University survey of 18- to 29-year-olds offered a list of 25 different national issues and asked respondents which concerned them most: “Foreign policy” was tied for last place. These voters are not simply uninterested in the world beyond U.S. borders—they are cynical about America’s role in it. Growing up against the backdrop of perpetual misbegotten war, they are downright dubious about what Washington stands for. Just 26 percent of those surveyed by Harvard said they believed that U.S. foreign policy had “done more good than harm for the rest of the world in the past decade.” Fewer than 40 percent agreed with the statement that “the U.S. is the greatest country in the world.”
Elections are, of course, contests for power. But they are also political and ideological crossroads. To the extent that America ever has a “national conversation,” it is during presidential campaigns, when a common set of themes commands national attention. While campaigns feed off the concerns of voters, they also have the power to awaken passions the public scarcely knew it held. Given the shifting global power relations and the Trump Administration’s destructive foreign policy, it is incumbent on the Democratic presidential candidates in the primary and the general election to stir a rising generation to support America’s global leadership in ways that will promote international order, protect U.S. interests, and safeguard liberal values. They need to begin to bridge the sharp disconnect between the pressing need for America to breathe new life into the progressive global order and the deep apathy and dubiousness toward liberal internationalism that young progressive voters evince. For by downplaying foreign policy during the campaign or offering a modest blueprint for what a chastened United States will do abroad, a future Democratic President will arrive at the White House without the mandate needed to shape a global landscape that can safeguard American interests and values.
To capture the imaginations of young voters with a new narrative for American global leadership, candidates must first take stock, reflecting not only on where Trump has gone wrong but also on how Democrats themselves have sometimes faltered, and how regressive forces are tilting the international table to their advantage. That sobering assessment of the global trajectory fuels the urgency of elaborating a vision premised on integrity, principle, and resolve that can rally voters at home and allies around the world. Candidates must then consider how the values and priorities of emerging generations of voters can animate a renewed brand of U.S. global leadership, articulating specific priorities and plans using language that will resonate with this constituency. They need to offer a paradigm for ambitious, nimble, and forward-leaning internationalism that represents the best hope to ensure that concepts like freedom, human rights, openness, and cooperation gain a new global footing that can endure for decades to come.
American Leadership and Liberal Order Hanging in the Balance
The confluence of rising autocracy, Russian and Chinese assertiveness, and President Donald Trump’s fun house version of U.S. global leadership have shredded the liberal post-World War II global fabric. Authoritarianism is encroaching in every region; 2018 marked the 13th consecutive year of democratic retreat, as tracked by Freedom House. Europeans are scrambling to hold together their teetering union. Russia’s Putin is brazenly intervening in democratic elections, hoping to install quislings. Chinese President Xi Jinping is tightening the screws at home, has installed himself as president for life, and is tying 152 countries and international organizations into its Belt and Road initiative, the most ambitious global order-building effort since the Marshall Plan. Russia and China are peddling an alternative vision of global relations that places stability, security, tradition, and centralized authority ahead of legitimacy, freedom, democracy, and rights. Some U.S. conservatives, including Trump, are themselves drawn to this paradigm. They support immigration limits and social policies designed to safeguard political prerogatives and cultural traditions they view as threatened by diversity, immigration, and cosmopolitanism.
While the risk to the United States of immediate large-scale violent conflict may be small, the prospect of a gradual long-term reordering of the international system to disfavor U.S. influence and values is real. Stanford University democracy expert Larry Diamond has described the stakes in stark terms as “an existential period of challenge for freedom and democracy in the world. If you are Russia or China your goal would simply be to have America withdraw from the conflict.” Robert Kagan calls rising authoritarianism “the greatest threat to the liberal democratic world—a profound ideological, as well as strategic, challenge” that “we have no idea how to confront.” Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats predicts that Russia and China “will collaborate to counter U.S. objectives, taking advantage of rising doubts about the liberal democratic model.” Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sees “[w]arning signs [that] abound across the globe: the discrediting of mainstream politicians, the emergence of leaders who divide rather than unite . . . and the invocation of national greatness by people who identify greatness only with themselves.”
Confronted by determined and resourceful challengers, an America beset by self-doubt or lacking consensus behind its global role is vulnerable. The United States retains military, economic, and cultural advantages that position it to serve as a global fulcrum, tipping the balance of power back toward freedom. But that leverage has not been easy to summon of late. Let’s face it: Even seemingly straightforward objectives like getting the U.S. Congress to update the 18-year old Authorization to Use Military Force or secure our elections against foreign interference elude us. Political polarization and public indifference feed stasis. If a new President is serious about getting these things done, not to mention stanching climate change, resetting U.S. trade relations, reversing the march of authoritarianism, reviving U.S. nuclear diplomacy, rebuilding a beleaguered State Department, and much more, foreign policy cannot be an afterthought, nor a single bullet point on a laundry list of 20 campaign priorities. Whether they like it or not, whoever is in the White House in January 2021 will likely be among the most consequential foreign policy presidents of the twenty-first century. The question is whether that President’s legacy will be one of reversing the trends that alarm experts from both parties or cementing them.
Emphatic Internationalism Premised on Integrity, Principle, and Resolve
The image of an internationalist United States at its strongest is catalytic: a flourishing democracy at home, potent force on the world stage, firm and disciplined military muscle, credible standard-bearer for freedom and human rights, and an economic power that defines its national interest in collective prosperity. During World War II, the Cold War, and the period of democratic expansion during the 1990s, the United States, when at its best, harnessed this power to achieve lasting progress. U.S. leadership shored up the world’s democracies, fortified links among them, girded like-minded leaders, built rules-based institutions, and blunted the appeal of revanchist alternatives. It has been indispensable to creating international institutions, upholding the rule of law, promoting women’s and LGBT rights, advancing economic openness and opportunity, and alleviating poverty. For those who came of age since 2000, though, such accomplishments seemed to fade behind headlines about wars, indefinite detention, torture, drone strikes and—more recently—hubristic derision for close allies.
Restoring American leadership will require an inclusive, emphatic internationalism defined by three attributes: integrity, principle, and resolve. Integrity means proving to the world that Trump’s corruption and unscrupulousness have been an aberration and won’t be a new normal. America’s resistance to nepotism, cronyism, and self-dealing was long the envy of the world’s fledgling democracies. That rectitude must be enforced through rigorous vetting of appointees, strict bans on conflicts of interest, and limitations on commercial lobbying. Integrity must also be restored to America’s relationships, which means standing by pledges like the NATO shared defense commitment, showing respect and loyalty to allies, and rejecting craven pandering to authoritarians like Putin and Kim Jong Un. The free press needs to be restored to its rightful role and treated with respect so that it can do the work of holding government accountable.
Demonstrating principled leadership will require convincing the world that the new administration is serious about America’s role as a global exemplar of human rights, democracy, climate stewardship, fair trade, and the rule of law. These attributes are what make American global leadership more attractive to democratic nations and peoples than the illiberal alternatives nipping at its heels. That some contradictions and cases of hypocrisy unavoidably occur cannot be an excuse to dodge the imperative of demonstrating moral conviction whenever possible. A new administration will need to come down on the side of values in some hard cases where principle is pitted against security or economic interests.
The world will most closely scrutinize a potential new Democratic administration in terms of its resolve. This is also where the political headwinds will howl. Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley, has argued for a foreign policy that has “restraint” as its mantra and “does not prioritize the use of our power.” But while almost no one would disagree that military force should be a last resort, little can be accomplished without using power of some kind—including moral authority, diplomatic suasion, economic muscle, and multilateral pressure. And the effective use of these forms of power depends upon the belief that some things are worth fighting for. In his recent memoir, an impassioned ode to diplomacy, the career diplomat William Burns reflected that “the chances for successful diplomacy are vastly enhanced by the potential use of force. There is often no better way to focus the minds of difficult customers at the negotiating table than to have those remarkable tools on full display in the background.” China, Russia, Iran, and possibly others will find ways to test an incoming President. If a new leader has staked her presidency on a pledge to abstain from force virtually no matter what, the deterrent effect of U.S. power will be greatly diminished.
Young Progressives: A Generation Leery of Power
Still, a growing segment of the Democratic electorate seems to respond to rhetoric like Khanna’s that, while not quite isolationist, borders on a willingness to renounce the use of military force. After all, Americans are rightly tired of war. If the first President Bush believed he had “kicked the Vietnam Syndrome,” the Iraq invasion under his son instilled, especially in younger generations, a view of Washington as a heavy-handed, malign force. Some critics of American power go so far as to trace the global refugee crisis, nuclear proliferation, foreign human rights abuses, and nearly every other global problem to malign blundering by the United States. Summing up the sentiment, Former Army Major Danny Sjursen, known on Twitter as @skepticalvet, has put it this way: “American meddling has a way of making things worse, everywhere and all the time.” A new commander-in-chief will have to convince these doubters that American leadership amounts to more than just a litany of misguided efforts and overreach.
A first step is understanding something about the preferences of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980), millennials (born between 1981-96), and so-called Generation Z (born after 1996) voters who, according to Pew, will together form 62 percent of the 2020 electorate. A 2018 Rand Corporation study found that millennials are substantially less worried about national security threats than Baby Boomers and that there was a “significant age effect” in which levels of concern over specific threats were consistently lower for young respondents. Similarly, a survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that millennials are “much less likely than previous generations to embrace military intervention and massive defense buildups”; just 44 percent believe it important for the United States to maintain its role as a global military superpower.
These data leave no mystery as to why candidates spend so little time talking about foreign policy. Rising cynicism and ennui are taking a toll on the very vocabulary for such conversations. A 2019 study by the Center for American Progress revealed that concepts like “fighting authoritarianism and dictatorship,” “promoting democracy,” or “working with allies and the international community”—uniformly fall flat with voters. When asked about the phrase “maintaining the liberal international order,” none of the voters questioned could even define the term. It’s as if internationalism has become a dead language.
Sketching a vision that can invigorate American power while attracting the support of indifferent younger voters isn’t as simple as resurrecting metaphors that worked for Kennedy or Clinton. While drawing on those traditions, it will require invoking a fresh set of beliefs that are salient for younger Americans—values including diversity, equality, inclusion, ethicality, sustainability, entrepreneurship, and human rights—into the way policy priorities are described. It will involve casting the United States not as a savior, hero, or hegemon, but as an ally, innovator, and agent of change.
Six key points of emphasis can help define and enliven this new vision: a renewed and more central commitment to human rights; a more respectful and reciprocal approach to alliances; a suite of opportunities for young people to engage personally in global citizenship; a mobilization of new congressional leadership; and a widening of the conversation beyond ending wars to sustaining peace.
One: Emphasize Human Rights Activism
Despite a seeming indifference to authoritarianism abroad, human rights is a rallying cry that can rouse young voters. In Harvard’s 2019 survey of 18-29 year olds, when asked about eight foreign policy priorities, respondents said they considered “promoting human rights” the number one goal of U.S. foreign policy, ahead of preventing the rise of terrorist groups and even protecting the environment. Around the world, young activists like Pakistani Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, Hong Kong Umbrella Movement leader Joshua Wong, and the high school students of Parkland, Florida have captivated global peers with their daring convictions. By speaking out in support of dauntless dissidents and pledging to restore credible human rights leadership from Washington, candidates can offer a dose of inspiration, while marshalling support to push back against creeping autocracy. The so-called “call-out culture” on social media, deeply familiar to a rising generation, is a variation of the age-old tactic of “naming and shaming”—except that the latter stigmatizes not political incorrectness but violations of international law.
Human rights has always been considered something of a sideline in national security circles. But it is no coincidence that the world’s most egregious rights violators—China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and others—are also the most potent threats to U.S. interests. As it did during the Cold War, a focus on human rights can help reframe political struggles in principled terms. Human rights causes also speak to the appetite of a rising generation to engage personally in activism and make their voices heard through social media, petitions, marches, and campaigns. By invoking the passions kindled by the mistreatment of migrants at the U.S. border, the viral #BlueforSudan campaign against civilian casualties, and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, candidates can tap into the indignation of a rising generation and the belief that the United States must and can do better.
The case for invigorated human rights leadership was underscored earlier this summer when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the creation of a commission mandated to divine which internationally recognized human rights the Trump Administration will recognize as inalienable and which are to be dismissed as “ad hoc.” More than 400 human rights advocates and organizations have called to disband the ideologically lopsided body, stacked with opponents of reproductive freedom and LGBT rights. Facing an Administration determined to turn back the clock on human rights norms salient to young people, candidates can breathe justifiable urgency into a forward-looking agenda. Human rights will never be the sole pillar of U.S. foreign policy, sometimes taking a backseat to security or economic interests. But there is a long positive agenda that the United States can pursue to fortify international norms, aid rights defenders, and elevate human rights expertise and clout within the foreign policymaking apparatus. Priorities should include defending women’s rights in the Islamic world, speaking out against the forced reeducation of China’s Uighurs, calling out Putin’s repression of gay families, speaking out on behalf of silenced Turkish academics, and advocating a return to compassionate refugee and asylum policies.
If young and progressive voters are likely to warm to the defense of minority rights, they have shown less enthusiasm for “promoting democracy”—no doubt because of the way such rhetoric was invoked in the Iraq invasion and other Bush-era misadventures. But there is room to rally idealists by fighting against stolen and corrupted elections and the kinds of traditional, non-interventionist democracy fostering efforts pursued by the National Endowment for Democracy and its partners that were never tainted by Bush-era nation-building. The integrity of elections is under unprecedented siege. Presidential candidates should pledge to mount a global election integrity initiative that enlists the most sophisticated technical expertise from Silicon Valley, shrewd political operatives and communications gurus from around the world, top experts in election management and oversight, political parties, and candidates to safeguard balloting and eschew underhanded tactics that thwart the will of voters. (Biden has rightly made this a signature issue, championing a global pledge along these lines.) Working multilaterally, the initiative should develop standards, collect and share best practices, assist governments to harden their systems and infrastructure, monitor and expose attacks on democratic integrity, and elevate the essential role of election integrity globally.
Two: Set a New Tone with American Allyship
As noted, young voters mostly reject the notion of American exceptionalism. In a 2019 Pew poll, just 14 percent of Generation Z (and 13 percent of millennials) agreed that the United States is “better than all other countries in the world.” They seem to embrace George Bush Sr.’s caricature of his Democratic rival Michael Dukakis’s foreign policy a generation ago: “He sees America as another pleasant country on the UN roll call, somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe,” not as “the leader —a unique nation with a special role in the world.” Interestingly, however, when it comes to support for NATO, Pew has found millennials to be just as enthusiastic as prior generations. Per a 2018 Chicago Council on Foreign Relations Study, despite much lower support for U.S. global engagement overall, millennial and Gen X voters are as supportive of international agreements, including the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Paris Climate Accord, as are previous generations. If American preeminence is viewed skeptically, international collaborations are not.
Changing American attitudes and a jolted global perspective on U.S. leadership together point to the need to set a new tone as the United States frames its role in relation to others. For a rising generation, the word “ally” does not connote the powers who fought side-by-side to vanquish Hitler. Rather, “allyship” refers to a deliberate effort to build trust and demonstrate accountable support to those who hold less power. White “allies,” for example, will help counter bigotry against people of color. Male allies can speak up to support women fending off harassment. In talking about the United States’s role in the world, an emphasis on accountability, initiative, reciprocity, and cooperation should replace references to U.S. exceptionalism or indispensability. American leadership should be put forward not as a divine right, but as a privilege that the United States is committed to earn anew by ensuring that worthy interests and peoples are safe and supported. Pete Buttigieg captured this in his June 2019 foreign policy speech when he said that his goal would be “to argue that the world today needs America more than ever—but only if America can be at her best.” By turning the tables to talk less about America’s need for allies and what we get from them and more about Washington’s role as a faithful ally to others, the concept becomes less self-serving.
Three: Expand Opportunities for Global Citizenship
Despite their lack of interest in international affairs, Gen Xers and millennials are more likely than Baby Boomers to say that globalization is good for the United States. By capitalizing on this receptivity and working to expose rising generations to the rest of the world, the United States can begin to nurture a cohort that better understands America’s role and why it matters. Candidates should set a vision of expanded opportunities for global citizenship, focused on youth in particular. Nearly 60 years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the International Sister Cities program to pair American cities with counterparts abroad to foster citizen support for U.S. global engagement. The program still exists, and today, there is an opportunity to leverage technology and travel to invigorate it. Diplomats stationed around the world would benefit from direct connections to U.S. communities to help ground policy more firmly in the concerns of everyday Americans. Schools and students can now collaborate and connect far more directly through digital platforms than in the old days of epistolary pen pals. New techniques should be pioneered to instill global sensibilities and connections to a much wider swath of American youth.
Around 10.9 percent of American college students (16 percent of those earning bachelor’s) study abroad. Passage of the Paul Simon Study Abroad Act would more than triple that number through various incentives. The State Department’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth sends about 600 high school students overseas for immersion programs in languages including Chinese, Tajik Persian, and Arabic. This program and the similar Critical Language Scholarship program for college and graduate students should be expanded dramatically, giving more students global experience and connections.
Since it was first rolled out during the Kennedy Administration, the Peace Corps has been one of the best channels to build goodwill and infuse Americans with informed, empathic perspectives on the globe. But the program’s overall size and structure haven’t evolved much in 60 years. By adding new capabilities and spotlighting resonant themes, the Peace Corps can renew its role as a wellspring of fascination with the world. With global wireless penetration expected to reach 99 percent next year, the Peace Corps is poised to act as a source of energy and expertise not just in its traditional arenas of education, health, and development, but in technological adoption and innovation. Harnessing the tech savvy and entrepreneurial inclinations of a rising generation, a global Tech Corps could place digitally savvy volunteers around the world to build skills, access online knowledge, and help launch businesses. Some Peace Corps volunteers have done this already, in a few cases starting what have become major overseas companies. The government can enlist the support of Silicon Valley to help underwrite this expansion and send skilled engineers, information architects, and other tech professionals to spread the wealth of U.S. technological leadership. The tech sector could then draw from the firsthand knowledge of returning volunteers to help fulfill their own global aspirations. Peace Corps opportunities dedicated to refugee relief and resettlement, bolstering minority and women’s rights, supporting LGBT adolescents, or mitigating the impact of climate change could help refresh the agency’s image and ignite the passions of a new cohort.
Four: Build a Diplomatic Apparatus that Looks Like America
The scorched-earth “restructuring” implemented by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left the ranks of career foreign policy and national security professionals depleted. As of this writing, 53 ambassadorial posts around the world remain empty. American power cannot be projected by a skeleton crew. As Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden have both stressed, an incoming administration will need to move aggressively to bolster the ranks, attract new talent, and alter rules to allow for swifter recruitment, reinstatement, and promotion.
This effort should be framed as a campaign to build a diplomatic corps that “looks like America,” in the phrase Bill Clinton once used about his Cabinet, so that the national security ranks are not simply replenished, but remade to represent a fast-changing nation. This will entail not just aggressive efforts to achieve diversity in hiring and promotions but also going further to dismantle assumptions, policies, and ingrained prejudices that have kept the U.S. diplomatic ranks, as former Democratic Senator Bob Graham once put it, “white, male, and Yale.” With the millennial generation 44 percent persons of color, the highest percentage in U.S. history, and the population of Americans born after 2007 having no single dominant ethnic group, visible commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is a keystone for young voters.
The imperative of rebuilding America’s diplomatic ranks is essential to strengthen national security but can—and should—be approached as a progressive cause.
A diplomatic corps that represents America should reflect not just diversity, but American skills and know-how. Home to the world’s most advanced technology companies, the United States needs to bring that savvy to bear diplomatically. In 2017, as part of a redesign that only Vladimir Putin could have loved, Tillerson disbanded the State Department’s cybersecurity office. A new administration should commit to beefing up the newly created Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies so that the United States can catch up and assert itself as a global leader in setting cyber norms and policy. The United States also needs to enlist expertise from the tech sector throughout the bureaucratic ranks. Several programs exist that identify qualified engineers, computer scientists, and others open to public service. New incentives and pay structures may be necessary to attract talent, as has been done within other federal agencies in need of top scientific talent. The image of a newly mobilized, diverse, and tech-enabled diplomatic corps could become a magnet for opportunity-seeking youth.
Five: Talk Less About Ending Endless War and More About Building Lasting Peace
The title of a recent Foreign Affairs article by Bernie Sanders was “Ending America’s Endless Wars.” Biden, Warren, Buttigieg, and others have all sounded the theme that U.S. military interventions have gone on too long. Some of them have promised to bring all the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. But, when pressed, most will admit the risks of complete and abrupt withdrawal. In Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, the United States government has learned the hard way not to expect conflicts to end with a full drawdown of U.S. forces. In Iraq the “official” U.S. exit in late 2011 was reversed 18 months later when troops returned to combat ISIS. Weeks after Trump announced a withdrawal from Syria in December 2018, his plan was partially reversed as its perils became plain.
While younger voters are rightly weary of military overreach, they also understand that total retrenchment can be unwise. Surveys suggest there are some causes that they believe do merit military action, including humanitarian intervention and combating Islamic extremism. If you read the fine print of their articles and speeches, even candidates vowing to end forever wars acknowledge that it’s not as simple as airlifting boots off the ground and requires measures to ensure that conflicts don’t simply flare anew. Candidates need to be explicit that, while they don’t wish to deploy U.S. troops promiscuously, they will be thoughtful and strategic in leaving residual forces that are not part of a “forever war” rather an investment to secure peace or blunt violence. Candidates need to go beyond the easy applause line of decrying endless war to set out how the United States can help sustain stability in conflict zones and why both the interests of the United States and the region will sometimes demand that.
Six: Reboot Congressional Engagement on Foreign Policy
If the world believes that the U.S. President is at risk of being undercut by Congress, his or her influence will be doubted from the start. Yet Congress has not voted on the use of military force for nearly 18 years, stymied by polarization and fear of political fallout from either failing to support the troops or greenlighting open-ended military adventures. But the composition of Congress is changing, and new leaders must leverage those changes to instill new norms. With 101 new House freshmen elected in 2018, record numbers of women in the House and Senate, and the prospect of more renewal in 2020, a full reboot of congressional engagement on foreign policy is necessary—and possible.
A number of dynamic new figures on the Hill have captured the imagination of younger voters. These new leaders are potential catalysts for a rekindled interest in foreign affairs among their constituents. Hill leadership, foreign policy agencies, foundations, and NGOs should invest in building knowledge on the Hill and widen exposure to foreign policy issues. Efforts should include an expanded array of study groups to cover more countries and regions (they currently exist only for Europe, Germany, Japan, and Korea), enticing official travel opportunities and far more systematic analyses that tie global concerns into local interests in individual home districts.
The most prominent and energetic new members should be mentored and cultivated to help them establish foreign policy chops. Other newer members of Congress arrived on the Hill already bearing hefty national security credentials from government and military service. They should be elevated to convene and lead their counterparts. Once a new administration is in office, the State Department and National Security Council legislative affairs offices should be shifted out of their historic reactive and protective postures. They should be charged and equipped with mobilizing the full weight of the U.S. diplomatic corps to help cultivate congressional champions.
The proudest moments of American global leadership all involved presidents taking political risks to lead American public opinion. The President’s bully pulpit is an unmatched platform from which to restore the United States’s global standing, turn back the tide of authoritarianism, and reinvent an internationalism geared toward today’s challenges. But these tasks are nothing if not ambitious. To lay the groundwork for success, candidates need to resist the temptation to relegate foreign policy to the sidelines of the presidential campaign, and instead use this time to acclimate voters to the challenges that lie ahead and the decisions and investments necessary to meet them. In so doing, they should begin to pilot language and themes that can help to overcome the antipathy of a generation cynical about the possibilities of American power, and explain how the progressive ideals that have brought millions out into the streets and down to the National Mall for marches and demonstrations must infuse a renewed commitment to global engagement aimed to secure the very same values. If a rising generation of Americans becomes permanently alienated from the idea of U.S. leadership, our country will be less powerful and more exposed. After the trauma of Trump, the 2020 election will be a decisive turning point that determines whether the United States can once again play a lead role in managing the world’s problems, or instead focused mainly on managing its own decline. We must count on our candidates to captivate voters with a conception of internationalism that is up-to-date, forward looking, and worthy of their impassioned support. In so doing, they can galvanize on the campaign trail, and also secure the support they need to drive U.S. foreign policy forward to a new and more promising era.