U.S. foreign policy is stronger when it enjoys bipartisan support. For the United States to play a steady, stabilizing role in world affairs, its allies and adversaries must know that its government speaks with one voice and that its policies won’t shift dramatically with changing domestic political winds. The best way to ensure that clarity and consistency is to pursue policies that are guided by American values of freedom, openness, opportunity, and inclusivity—and that have the support of policymakers and ordinary Americans across the political spectrum.
After four years under U.S. President Donald Trump, returning to clarity, consistency, and bipartisanship will not be easy. Trump’s “America first” political narrative has proved to be compelling and politically powerful. It taps into a long-standing strain of isolationism in U.S. politics, and it resonates with many Americans who question the benefits of globalization and of endless military engagement overseas. Trump’s supporters are not going away, and they cannot be easily dismissed as extremists. If U.S. policymakers seek to restore a bipartisan consensus favoring American global leadership, they must persuade ordinary Americans that international engagement and alliances are worth the cost.
Advocates of U.S. international leadership must recognize that domestic and foreign policy are inextricably linked and that a successful and durably bipartisan foreign policy depends on the American people’s appreciation of that link. The United States does not have to choose between being the world’s policeman and total retrenchment: it can engage the world more selectively, in principled and pragmatic ways that better serve the interests of working Americans.
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