Opinion: Make American foreign policy great again

By Sophie Boulter, World News Editor

Remember when the U.S. had a proactive, durable foreign policy? Yeah, me neither. 

Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. amassed power in response to Soviet threats. While our reactive foreign policy ensured worldwide American dominance in the short term, it left us sputtering once the Soviet Union collapsed. 

Would we find a clear vision to guide our international interactions at the head of a “New World Order?” Or would we squander this unipolar moment, in which the U.S. was the world’s only great power?

Bill Clinton’s foreign policy was relatively strong. Leading a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) response to the Bosnian Crisis and helping to broker peace in Northern Ireland, Clinton  could have been the president to lead a youthful and dynamic foreign policy.  

However, Clinton has become more of a punchline than a president. His personal indiscretions meant that his foreign policy achievements have been mostly lost to history. 

If Clinton’s foreign policy was a moment squandered, then George W. Bush’s foreign policy took that moment and crushed it under boots bigger than Texas. From the shambolic, dishonest intervention in Iraq to the “moral majority” conservatism that infiltrated his worldview, Bush’s foreign policy had no cohesive vision beyond promoting an America-centric idea of democracy. 

Barack Obama inherited Bush’s mess, which made him wary of pursuing a robust foreign policy. In some ways, his worldview doomed him from the start; devoid of decisive action, Obama attempted to “pivot to Asia,” and was partially successful with his Trans-Pacific Partnership and the G-20 — but even these initiatives were started by the previous administration. 

In his commitment to not being another Bush, Obama perpetuated a weak foreign policy lacking teeth, a compelling strategy or vigor. His response to the Syrian Civil War was inconsistent and his “red lines” were ignored.

And Donald Trump just gave up. His critiques of our “forever wars” were valid, but his approach was idiotic. By pulling out of the Paris Agreement and Iran Nuclear Deal, he angered allies and proved us to be unreliable partners. He had less of a grand strategy and more of a laundry list of grievances — NATO, Iran, North Korea, the EU — which his foreign policy choices checked off.

Now, Joe Biden has a choice. He can continue the lackluster post-Cold War policies of his predecessors, or he can take decisive action. Business-as-usual won’t ruin the U.S. — we survived Bush, Obama and Trump, after all — but it will probably continue our downward spiral on the world stage. Major change is the only way to salvage our role in the world. 

First, the U.S. should pursue deep commitments to new allies who can protect our strategic interests against China and Russia. One place to start would be India, with whom the U.S. has no formal alliance.

Dr. Timothy White, who teaches U.S. Foreign Policy, agrees. 

“Given the increased rivalry with China, it makes more sense than ever to develop good relations with India,” he said. 

Second, priorities need to shift from active military engagement — “boots on the ground” kind of stuff — to cybersecurity. The constant disinformation campaigns spearheaded by Russia require the U.S. to clearly codify its cyber laws, strengthen its cyber capabilities and work with allies to create a clear cybersecurity strategy. 

This should be balanced with the necessary protection of data rights, an area in which the U.S. lags woefully behind the EU, Brazil and Canada. 

Third, the U.S. needs to find a balance between patriotism and pragmatism in its foreign policy. A compelling, robust foreign policy should be proud of America’s place in the world but also cognizant of our country’s record of embarrassing failures. We need more than a lukewarm, hesitating attitude towards the wider world, but we should refrain from forcing our worldview onto others.

Strength and restraint, power and modesty, dynamism and consistency — by balancing our contradictions, American foreign policy can be made great again.