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Rubin: Foreign policy disarray or opportunity

Published October 28, 2013 11:49 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

You really do need a score card these days to tell politicians' foreign policy inclinations.

There are Democratic internationalists, right-wing isolationists, Democratic doves, pro-defense Republicans, anti-Pentagon Republican budget hawks, anti-Pentagon liberal welfare-state supporters. In all the tumult and with players changing "sides," however, there is arguably more unity across party lines than we have had since Bill Clinton's presidency.

The majority of members of Congress and the rhetoric of Obama administration officials reflect the decades-old conviction that the United States is the world's indispensable power.

Although President Obama utterly failed to carry through, Secretary of State John Kerry's public statements urging action in Syria could have been given by any number of Republicans.

Former ambassador Eric Edelman, a career foreign service official, recently argued at a Foreign Policy Initiative conference that for decades there has been agreement on the things the United States should be doing: "defending the homeland, but maintaining the freedom of the seas, freedom to transit in air, outer space, the freedom to use cyberspace, maintaining a balance of power in Europe and in Asia through our alliances. . . . And then being able to provide for international humanitarian needs when disaster strikes as we have done repeatedly around the world."

The task is made harder when the president exercises no leadership and makes no consistent case for U.S. involvement in the world.

However, there is good news on two fronts for those who fear an erosion of the internationalist consensus.

First, the anti-interventionists can't say who would provide stability and how we would maintain our way of life and economic position in a globalized world of chaos, war, genocide and weapons of mass destruction.

Second, on some big issues there is bipartisan unity in favor of U.S. leadership. In Congress and in the larger policy-making arena, the central task is explaining the connection between U.S. world leadership and our prosperity and security.

The essential task now is to convince the majority of Americans and their elected representatives that the world needs the United States and that Americans must cultivate stability, liberty and peace internationally.