Treading a Foreign Policy Tightrope

COMMENTARY Political Process

Treading a Foreign Policy Tightrope

Mar 13th, 2008 2 min read
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.


Edwin J. Feulner is the founder and president of The Heritage Foundation.

After so many debates, primaries and stump speeches, it's difficult to believe Election Day is still eights months away. But it's probably good that political campaigns last so long. Now that they're marathons instead of sprints, they give candidates a chance to prove they can endure great stress for long periods of time.

They also give Americans time to reflect on what the next president should aim to accomplish. Take foreign policy. As a world leader, the U.S. must handle its responsibilities carefully. For Kim Holmes, author of "Liberty's Best Hope," promoting liberty is the most important international challenge facing our next leader.

"Restoring a belief in liberty is not about a president giving a series of ringing speeches," Holmes, a vice president at The Heritage Foundation, warns. "Rather, it is about understanding the seamless web of America's purpose in defending liberty and infusing that understanding into everything we do in foreign policy, including the exercise of power."

To do so, though, the United States will have to walk a tightrope. We must show strong leadership while demanding more from our allies. Consider the unaffordable welfare systems many European countries have built. They've been able to do so because, since World War II, the U.S. has been paying most of the cost of defending Europe. Our next president must "hold others more accountable for free riding on our security train," Holmes writes.

Another problem is that the U.S. has been too willing to turn the other cheek when slapped by the United Nations or other international organizations. Holmes says we must push back. "The next time our allies insist that a G-8 summit focus on global warming," he advises, "we should insist that there also be a new agenda item on how much more all the members, including Russia, could do to help Iraq in its transition to democracy and to help in the war on terrorism."

To promote democracy, we need to build what Holmes calls a "Global Freedom Alliance," an organization that would expand NATO into a worldwide organization dedicated to spreading liberty.

Holmes also encourages the U.S. to reform the Community of Democracies (a group that's supposed to be dedicated to expanding democracy), so that it includes only free nations. Many of our closest allies (such as Britain, Japan, Canada and Australia) would already qualify. Other nations -- specifically, those which support free-market principles but don't yet have a fully-functioning democracy -- could be observer nations, eligible to participate in conferences but not vote.

We need this community because existing international organizations, especially the U.N., have failed so completely. "The U.N. system is ready-made to tame America's superpower status," Holmes points out, because it empowers non-democratic nations. Thus, by attempting to work through the U.N., Washington has unintentionally boosted those who wish us ill.

Furthermore, the U.N. has perverted the very idea of democracy as Americans understand it. In the General Assembly, "democracy is understood not as a system of government to empower people or protect their rights but as an international system to empower and protect the rights of nation-states and their regimes," Holmes writes.

Fewer than half of the members of the U.N. General Assembly are true democracies, and many use U.N. organizations (including the Human Rights Council) to shield themselves from scrutiny. This must change.

All the basic elements needed to assemble an American-led freedom alliance are present, Holmes says. "What is lacking are coherent direction, inspiration, resources and competence of diplomacy and execution -- the ingredients of effective U.S. leadership," he writes.

That's exactly what Americans should demand of our next president. Thomas Jefferson once called our government "the world's best hope." Armed with Holmes' insights, there's no reason we can't make this as true now as it was 200 years ago.

Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation

First appeared in the Indianapolis Star