Strong at Home Means Strong in the World
The biggest foreign policy story of the summer may be America’s leaders working together to invest in the country’s ability to compete in the world
4 hr ago
The biggest story for America’s role in the world this summer may not be the strike that took out Al Qaeda’s leader, the latest fighting in Russia’s war against Ukraine, Biden’s Middle East trip, the unanswered question of whether Iran’s leaders will bring their country closer to the 21st century, or even the pathetic temper tantrums by China’s Communist leaders over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s brief trip to Taiwan.
Indeed, the biggest story in recent weeks may end up being one measure passed by Congress and a second under consideration that would continue to revamp America’s economy with strategic investments. Stimulus and infrastructure investment packages in 2021 jumpstarted America’s economic engine after the forced shutdown during the worst of the pandemic. Two measures in 2022 could give another strategic boost to America’s roaring economy:
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- The CHIPS and Science Act, passed last week with bipartisan support and signed into law by President Biden this week, provides more than $50 billion in subsidies and tax credits for microchip manufacturers who set up new operations or expand existing ones in America to address growing microchip shortages. The bill also offers $200 billion worth of investments in new technologies such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and robotics. These efforts are a key part of addressing supply chain security and sharpening America’s competitiveness in the contest with countries like China.
- The Inflation Reduction Act, still under consideration by Congress, would invest in domestic energy production and manufacturing. The draft legislation offers practical measures for incentives to a transition to cleaner energy in America at a time of rising global concerns about the effects of climate change – and it aims to do this without breaking the budget. Lawmakers are still haggling over the details and it’s still unclear if it will pass, but the mid-summer surprise news that Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) was ready to make a deal also includes an important effort to reduce health care costs and build on Obamacare.
These two measures, combined with the stimulus and infrastructure investments of last year, represent an important step to overhaul America’s economic engine to compete in the world more effectively. They do come with some risk of overheating the engine to the point of breakdown, as we’ve seen in the recent price spikes, but these are policy measures that most Americans strongly support.
The funny thing is that most of America’s foreign policy experts don’t see the linkage between these domestic moves and what it means for America’s role in the world in the long run as clearly as ordinary Americans do. These investments are where the future battles for influence in the world will be waged in the coming years, and they have the added benefit of producing a “rally around the flag” approach in America.
Most Americans See the Domestic-Foreign Policy Link
One important thing to remember about these steps to invest in America’s economy: they are wildly popular with voters across the political spectrum, no matter what noise political leaders and the chattering classes of the media industrial complex say. Three key data points are relevant to this moment:
1. Most Americans want their leaders to strike deals and get things done. A series of public opinion polls over the past year find that despite our sharp partisan and ideological divisions, a strong majority of Americans want to see more compromise. A recent poll by Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service found that two thirds of Americans (66%) choose a political leader willing to compromise and get things done over a leader that consistently fights (33%).
Those arguments about motivating the baseversus persuading others to work with your side have consistently failed over the past several years, but that doesn’t keep noisy advocates from the left and right fringes from making the same failed arguments again and again. Americans like it when their leaders come together and produce results.
2. There is strong public support for making these types of investments. Most Americans support investments such as upgrading the nation’s infrastructure, making public investments in economic sectors that look to the future, and linking domestic and foreign policy more closely.
Another sign of a good foundation of public support for the types of energy transition investment measures under consideration in the Inflation Reduction Act is in this pollthat found nearly 6 in 10 Americans agreeing that “Fighting climate change is good for America’s economy because it creates new jobs and supports American businesses that are producing cleaner energy,” with only about one third saying “fighting climate change hurts America’s economy because it threatens existing oil and gas jobs and raises the costs of energy for everyone.”
3. Most Americans see what happens at home economically as directly linked to our ability to compete with countries like China. Other data points from recent public opinion research find that most Americans want their leaders to support measures that help the country compete in the world, and they see China as a leading competitor. This means there is a wide space to define a narrative that connects with Americans’ competitive spirit and do it in a way that isn’t war mongering or racist. But the country needs leaders who consistently articulate the stakes rather than getting trapped in Beltway or academic-style debates disconnected from voters.
Who Tells the Best Story Wins
The American public is ripe for a leader to come in and articulate a vision for America’s security and economic competitiveness, one that links domestic measures with foreign policy moves. But the odd thing is that none has appeared, and we have only seen glimmers of this from President Biden and his team.
Take a look at President Biden’s speechannouncing the strike that killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri this week. A lot of the words may sound familiar to you because we’ve heard them all before from Biden’s predecessors too.
America has gotten really good at taking out terrorists overseas – and our leaders are well-practiced in connecting with the public in describing these actions. For all of our divisions at home, America has a unified national narrative on fighting terrorists, a narrative that was crafted and honed over two decades, despite many, many mistakes and unforced errors in implementing a global counterterrorism strategy.
A glaringly obvious gap in U.S. foreign policy today is a more proactive story that talks about the steps that we are taking as a country to produce high quality jobs for Americans at home by making the right investments here while staying engaged in the world. Episodically we hear components of this from the Biden administration – like this speech from White House economic advisor Brian Deese earlier this summer outlining the components of a “modern American industrial strategy.” This speech has some of the elements that should be communicated directly to the American people, not just to elite audiences of business leaders in New York City.
President Biden does a pretty job of this when he steps out of the elite bubbles of America’s cities and international conferences – like in early July when he went to Ohio to speak to working Americans about the things his administration has done to help improve their lives. This message and the venue are a step in the right direction in this instance, but it was still incomplete because it didn’t directly link what he’s doing with Congress and the steps he’s taking the world to help American workers and businesses as clearly as he could have.
National narratives develop over time and across political divides
As with the cohesive national narrative on dealing with terrorists, a national narrative about America’s emerging industrial strategy to compete in a new world will only emerge over several years. It won’t be defined by a single president, and none of the political parties will be the sole author of it. Instead, it will be a collective enterprise, one that will emerge despite the dearth of dialectic and discourse in public life.
The narrative will come not only in speeches but actions like the ones taken this summer in these major investments at home to compete in the world. The least interesting aspects of the narrative are the noisy advocates who operate like one-trick ponies, focused on their narrow field of vision. The most interesting aspects are the ones who can take different elements from across ideological divides and intellectual schools of thought and synthesize them together in themes that connect with Americans’ core values.
Crafting a new American narrative that’s connected to its past but with eyes on the future is a task very much like open-source coding in computer programming, with multiple actors working together and sometimes pulling in opposite directions.
Take the longer view and widen the field of vision for a moment: the most