The chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees stated last weekend that the world was getting more unsafe. A few days later, the Pew Research Center reported that 52 percent of Americans think the U.S. should “mind its own business internationally,” the highest such total in the nearly 50-year history of that query. Taken together, these two items symbolize a serious emerging national problem.
The crackup ahead lies in the mismatch between the challenges facing America and the public’s willingness to support an activist foreign policy to deal with them.
The traditional American response to such puzzles has been to form a bipartisan commission. A model is the path-breaking 2006 Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James A. Baker III, former secretary of state; and Rep. Lee Hamilton, former Democratic congressman from Indiana. Giants serving with them included Sandra Day O’Connor, former Supreme Court justice; and Vernon Jordan, a banker, civil rights leader and counselor to presidents. For advice, they turned to such luminaries as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, all brilliant former national security advisers.
All are part of the traditional foreign policy establishment that still commands the high ground intellectually but does not reflect the restless, frustrated mood of the American public.
What should a modern-day commission be worrying about? Rep. Mike Rogers and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence committees, respectively, said last Sunday on CNN that the world is not safer today than a few years ago.
A modest proposal is that Obama should convene a younger group of American leaders: strategists, technologists, professors. It would be a learning exercise – to understand how the country should deal with the problems of the next 10 years without making the mistakes of the past 10.
Happily, there is a new generation of thinkers who could form the bipartisan group I’m imagining. If you don’t know their names yet, you should. Marc Lynch of George Washington University, known to his online fans as “Abu Aardvark”; David Kilcullen, one of the architects of counterinsurgency success in Iraq and author of “Out of the Mountains,” an iconoclastic new book on future urban conflicts; Michele Flournoy, a clear-eyed former undersecretary of defense; Jared Cohen and Alec Ross, two technological wizards who advised the State Department under Hillary Clinton and are now with Google and Johns Hopkins University, respectively. I’d add the administration’s own Salman Ahmed, Tony Blinken, Ben Rhodes, Wendy Sherman and Jake Sullivan.
What encourages me is that the same American public that wants America to mind its own business internationally also registers a two-thirds majority in favor of greater U.S. involvement in the global economy, according to the Pew poll. Young respondents were even more internationalist on this issue than their elders.
This is a connected generation that can address problems in new ways – but it needs to get started.
David Ignatius’ email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.