Restoring America’s standing in the world must surely rank as the next administration’s foremost priority. Unfortunately, the three remaining presidential candidates have yet to articulate a clear strategy for achieving this (admittedly daunting) objective. Whoever prevails in November should ground their strategy in seven principles and policies. I do not regard the first three as particularly controversial — the experiences of the past decade or so yield them quite naturally — and, as such, I present them without comment:
1. Abandon neoconservatism as a foreign policy paradigm.
2. Bring in more students and scholars from countries in the Islamic world.
3. Intensify efforts to cultivate alternative energy sources and make them economically viable.
4. Engage India and China.
While India and China are rapidly growing economic powers, they are not the fearsome titans that Western media would often have us believe. They face — China, in particular — serious challenges to their development that are concealed in pictures of gleaming skyscrapers and reports of 10 percent annual GDP growth. The zero-sum conception of global politics that has come to characterize Washington’s mindset maintains that their growth threatens our own. The high extent of interdependence between the world’s powerful economies exposes the fallacy of this argument. Putting aside the reality that attempting to “contain” or reverse their growth would be mutually inimical, such an action would be immoral. In engaging India and China, we have the opportunity to enhance our own leadership and lift billions of enterprising minds out of poverty.
5. Engage non-state actors in the Middle East such as Hamas and Hizballah.
Isolating groups whose interests differ from our own does not always result in their losing appeal among their constituencies. In the case of impoverished, desperate societies that depend on militant organizations, adopting that course only entrenches those organizations’ hold. In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed a pyramidal hierarchy of human needs. At the bottom were physiological needs such as food and water, and at the top was the need for self-actualization. The Bush Administration stresses the importance of instituting modern governance in Muslim countries, and decries the brutality of groups like Hamas and Hizballah (among others). It is misguided for two reasons. First, most Muslims resent their governments, as polls of Iranians and Saudi Arabians amply demonstrate. Second, and perhaps more important, even the most fervent proponents of democracy will side with an unsavory entity if it can provision their basic needs.
Lebanon offers an excellent example. One of the reasons that the United States is losing the proverbial battle for hearts and minds there is that relief organizations that receive funding from the American government are legally prohibited from employing Hizballah as an intermediary in their efforts. Unfortunately, because its influence is so pervasive — Hizballah administers the disbursement of all reconstruction monies — this stipulation virtually assures that the United States cannot fund or establish a viable, credible alternative to it.
6. Subsidize wheat production in Afghanistan.
In 2007, Afghanistan produced 95 percent of the world’s opium; in 2006, that figure was 92 percent; in 2000, it was 70 percent; and in 1990, it was 52 percent. These figures suggest that NATO’s current counternarcotics campaign is fundamentally misguided. Eliminating poppy crops is tantamount to eliminating the sole source of income for many Afghans. The West cannot hope to undercut the Taliban’s influence unless it creates alternative avenues of employment for them. Since Afghanistan is largely an agrarian economy, NATO should invest more energy in determining which staple crops other than poppy generate the highest yields in its soils. Building a New Afghanistan showcases compelling research on the potential of wheat to be such a staple crop.
7. Sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
With the utility and relevance of conventional military power rapidly diminishing, a country’s foreign policy success largely hinges on its credibility. Few single actions would do as much to reverse the notion that the United States abides by double standards than this one. In 2003, it terminated over $47 million in military aid to countries that did not sign deals to grant American soldiers immunity from war crimes prosecution. This policy is difficult to justify when the United States’ government avows (properly so) its right to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those individuals who are alleged to have committed crimes against American personnel. Indeed, the Bush Administration has circumvented the Geneva Convention to allow for the torture of such individuals.
Unifying these seven propositions is the simple but powerful conviction that the United States stands to achieve its greatest success when the global community is prospering. Articulating a clear foreign policy paradigm and corresponding principles will be of particular importance for the next administration since it will begin to see the appearance and ramifications of nonpolarity. The lead story in the current issue of Foreign Affairs argues that “The United States’ unipolar moment is over. International relations in the twenty-first century will be defined by nonpolarity.”
The end of the United States’ time as superpower will usher in an era where there is no superpower, but rather, multiple strong powers. Individuals, nonprofit organizations, and other non-state actors will experience growing influence. Accelerating globalization and an evolving definition of power — one that deemphasizes military prowess — will ensure that state and non-state actors compete for influence.
The next administration has, then, a dual imperative: restoring American leadership and comprehending a power landscape that is changing in uncertain, complex ways.
Ali Wyne is a member of the Class of 2008 and the current U.A. Vice President.