American and Floridian flags wave in Viera, FL. CREDIT: <a href=https://www.flickr.com/photos/rusty_clark/32170527104/>Rusty Clark (CC)</a>.
American and Floridian flags wave in Viera, FL. CREDIT: Rusty Clark (CC).

Foreign Policy Narratives in Palm Beach

Jan 23, 2020

This article first appeared on the Ethics & International Affairs blog.

I was honored to be invited to speak to a gathering of the Palm Beach chapter of the United Nations Association of the United States. The conversation about the scope and direction of U.S. foreign engagement parallels previous discussions in other parts of the country. There is a good deal of concern about the way forward given the uncertainties of the international system, and a search for a way to frame U.S. policy for dealing with the problems of the mid-21st century, rather than looking backwards.

As in previous conversations, the long-term impact of the Afghanistan venture and the sense that blood and treasure have been wasted with no clear results do erode confidence in the ability of the U.S. government and political system to effect change and achieve objectives. Not surprisingly for Florida, the question as to whether climate ought to occupy more of a central organizing principle for foreign policy moving forward was a point of discussion. And given that it was a UNA-USA chapter, the future role of the United Nations and questions about the democratic community of nations were raised—but with concerns that paralysis at the UN and an erosion of multilateralism could undermine the cooperation necessary for dealing with the climate, energy and resource challenges the world is expected to face in the next several decades.

One item of discussion dealt with the future of the U.S. in the Middle East and whether we will see a major shift in focus in American engagement moving forward—based on whether or not the Carter Doctrine identifying the Persian Gulf as a primary security interest of the U.S. still holds.

In Florida, it is not surprising that a new approach calling for the U.S. to reorient from an east-west to a north-south axis—in other words, to devote more time to hemispheric integration and to consolidating relations with Latin America and the Caribbean—would have traction. Interestingly, Robert Blackwill has also taken up that question, and come up with his own recommendations—some of which closely parallel elements of the different narratives identified in a recent Carnegie Council report. He argues for a shift towards the Indo-Pacific basin as the future region of focus, calls for regenerating American domestic capabilities, and for closer cooperation and coordination with democratic allies—picking up themes from the narratives we identified as the "democratic community" and the "regeneration" perspectives. If Blackwill's proposals were to be adopted by any administration as its guiding light for structuring its foreign policy, it would reflect a shift away from the patterns of the past.

Whether one agrees with any of these perspectives, what is most critical is that this debate begin—and that American civil society take its place as a full participant in these discussions.

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