American foreign policy in a changing world

How America can remain competitive amidst the new world order

Amidst rising tensions in the Middle East and an ever more aggressive Chinese Communist Party, American policymakers face a crossroads. The world is no longer dominated by a single superpower, meaning the days of United States’ unilateralism in global affairs, like the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan or invasions of Iraq in ‘90 and ‘03 are over. America must be ready to face significant pushback on its foreign affairs agenda from the likes of China, Russia, and Iran. All this adds up to a situation where the USA must project a robust, cohesive set of policies targeted toward defined goals that are realistically achievable rather than vague missions of “democracy building.” But how can the USA, which is more divided than ever, achieve this? 

We see two camps in the contemporary USA regarding foreign policy. The first camp is the status quo of internationalism, exemplified by President Biden. This group supports foreign aid of both a humanitarian and military nature, continued American involvement in the Middle East, and assistance to Ukraine. The second camp can be understood as isolationist in nature. They argue for redirecting military aid money to Ukraine toward issues at home, like securing the border with Mexico. To effectively compete on a global scale with other powerful countries, the USA must pursue policy that increases the attention paid to domestic issues while strategically picking which international issues to be involved in.  

Shoring up the home front may seem detached from foreign policy, but it is an essential goal. Building the cohesion necessary to project power abroad effectively. This means, in effect, that before a nation can worry about all the other nations, it must worry about itself. The USA is now concerned about other countries but has let itself fall to infighting and domestic polarization. What is needed is a partial retrenchment of American foreign policy, allowing the US space to sort themselves out at home while consolidating their international stance into a more cohesive and, therefore, influential position. The reasoning for this is twofold. The first is to appease the isolationists. Like it or not, the answer to domestic polarization is not to beat the other side of the fence into submission and drag them kicking and screaming to your side. There must be a back-and-forth between the sides, and consensus must be met. Second, the USA is overly scattered in its approach to foreign relations, leading to many liabilities, as discussed by Chairman Mao: “the United States has set up hundreds of military bases in many countries all over the world… [that are] nooses round the neck of US imperialism”. Though Mao referred to the bases as tools of imperialism, his basic premise still holds — each US base predicates American involvement in an area.  

Take, for example, the recent strike on an American base in Jordan by Iran-backed militants in Syria, resulting in the death of three American soldiers. If there had been no base, there would not have been a strike that killed three Americans, which means the USA would not be in its current position of retaliation against Iran. Bases beget involvement. The USA must reduce its presence in the Middle East, a region that strategically has little importance for the USA outside of the Strait of Hormuz, Bab Al-Mandab, and the Suez Canal. Take the resources currently expended fighting militants in Syria and Iraq and use them to improve the situation at home. Build a country worth fighting for. Like it or not, there’s a reason former president Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan captured the imagination of many Americans. After all, why does who is selling oil in the Middle East matter, so long as they are not using the oil money to pursue anti-American agendas? Already, the USA tolerates the fundamentalist absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia, so why bother changing the status quo in other non-democratic nations in the region? Reducing involvement in specific nations can free up resources for what the Americans should be doing in terms of military involvement globally: protecting free trade.  

No country has such a profound legacy when it comes to free trade. The first-ever American foreign involvement was to deal with the Barbary Corsairs, who were attacking American traders in the Mediterranean. Moreover, the USA has a history of “opening” countries to trade, as in the case of Japan and China. Post World War Two, the USA shaped the global market in its image by founding global finance institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank and instituting the Bretton-Woods system to stabilize exchange rates and international trade. The US Navy patrols the world’s oceans, ensuring safe and free passage for merchant vessels, keeping the flow of goods moving to ever-diverse markets, and growing the global economy daily. This system of free trade, pursued by the USA for over a century, is precisely what the USA should be protecting. In other words, let other states deal with regional politics. The USA needs to focus on the system connecting nations, ensuring economic growth and development for all.  

Does this mean that some nations who oppose the USA can leverage the stability produced by the USA-managed free trade system? Definitely. Does that mean that the system should be abandoned? Absolutely not. The net benefit from the American free trade system far outweighs the cost. One need only look at the development of Japan, South Korea, or Singapore to see the results of global free trade. South Korea tapped into the international markets, growing to become one of the most developed nations in the world, while its sister state, North Korea, did not. Today, the disparity between the global capitalist order and the failed communist international order can not be clearer. The USA found a winning economic system that has brought record numbers of people out of poverty across the globe. The USA should be defending trade instead of insurgents in places far from home. Become the protector of development and trade, not the punisher of autocrats and extremists. Use the success of American economics as a carrot rather than USA bombers as a stick. 

Olivia Haill – Argosy Illustrator


The USA must refocus its foreign policy while shoring up its prospects at home. It will surely be an adjustment that takes time. However, it will be necessary if the USA wants to avoid over-extension and remain the undisputed top dog in the international system. America, retrench to fix your situation at home. But remember the system of trade you fought so hard to establish and maintain. The people of the free world depend on it. 

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