The Obama Administration has a critical opportunity to avoid a foreign policy-as-usual approach and to pivot off the Egyptian crisis to reboot US foreign policy. In fact, we must use the current Egyptian crisis to re-examine, re-prioritize and re-energize U.S. foreign policy. This is the moment to quietly and strategically re-calibrate our approach to a world in hyper-change mode-with the molecules in motion.
Based on an insurgent strategy framework, below are five signposts for this re-calibration.
First, transcend partisan politics and craft a centrist foreign policy. Strict Wilsonian or neoconservative ideology is not the answer; nor is a realism that excuses maintaining the autocratic status quo. Foreign policy, going forward, must be crafted within the strategic center-e.g., ratification of the pending South Korea, Panama and Colombia trade deals, normalizing Cuba relations, continuing outreach to Russia, etc.
Second, support democratization quietly and incrementally. Around the world, moving carefully from autocracy to something more benign, stable and responsive is the goal-but doing this vocally or too quickly will only Americanize movements that must be indigenous to succeed. Instead, we must work quietly and incrementally through organizations like the NDI and the IRI to build democratic institutions-and to push the Karzais, Assads and Salehs to more democratic openness.
Third, ramp-up global youth outreach. Over 30 percent of today’s Middle East population consists of youth-with regional unemployment of over 25%. TV images of youth pushing over political dominos in Tunisia and Egypt highlight the importance of this global sector. And so the U.S. must ramp-up investments in the world’s next generation-for example, in youth-focused intelligence and analysis, outreach and educational exchange.
Fourth, build a smarter foreign policy. The U.S. will not be expanding the resources it spends in foreign policy or national security anytime soon-so we must do more….smarter. This means, for example, upgrading the training and organization of our intelligence community so it is better able to stay ahead of the kind of exponential change seen in Tunisia and Egypt. It means recruiting fresh innovation and private sector talent into the halls of government. And it means waging a more proactive foreign policy-using the newest conflict prediction models, scenario planning more regularly as part of National Security Council training, continuing to re-think public diplomacy approaches and preempting diplomatic disasters with a more proactive approach to avoiding conflict and rewarding positive global change.
Fifth, re-boot America at home. Managing a foreign and national security policy when the U.S. borrows $1 billion a day to import oil-while borrowing over 50% of our own debtfrom other nations-will soon become impossible. The U.S. must re-boot our own finances-following recommendations of any one of the many debt commissions, accelerating withdrawal from an Afghanistan war that costs us $2 billion weekly and setting an example of governance by changing the suicidal trajectory of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Defense spending. Strength abroad begins with strength at home.
Driving these strategic changes-strategic centrism, quiet democratization, youth outreach, smarter foreign policy and domestic rebooting-is the key to tackling the remarkable array of foreign policy challenges ahead. From China to Russia to the Middle East to Pakistan to Iran-a status quo foreign policy will produce more Mubaraks and encourage a dangerous world to become even more deadly.
David Morey is the award-winning author of The Underdog Advantage. He led the CFR Task Force on Public Diplomacy, served on the Defense Science Board’s Strategic Communications Committee and is an expert in global business and foreign policy.