What follows is part one of a three-part editorial on the future of America... and the changing face of the "American Dream." This article was penned by the mysterious "Mr. Y" - more on the enigmatic mr. Y later...
This Strategic Narrative is intended to frame our National policy decisions regarding investment, security, economic development, the environment, and engagement well into this century. It is built upon the premise that we must sustain our enduring national interests – prosperity and security – within a “strategic ecosystem,” at home and abroad; that in complexity and uncertainty, there are opportunities and hope, as well as challenges, risk, and threat. The primary approach this Strategic Narrative advocates to achieve sustainable prosperity and security, is through the application of credible influence and strength, the pursuit of fair competition, acknowledgement of interdependencies and converging interests, and adaptation to complex, dynamic systems – all bounded by our national values.
From Containment to Sustainment: Control to Credible Influence
For those who believe that hope is not a strategy, America must seem a strange contradiction of anachronistic values and enduring interests amidst a constantly changing global environment. America is a country conceived in liberty, founded on hope, and built upon the notion that anything is possible with enough hard work and imagination. Over time we have continued to learn and mature even as we strive to remain true to those values our founding fathers set forth in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.
America’s national strategy in the second half of the last century was anchored in the belief that our global environment is a closed system to be controlled by mankind – through technology, power, and determination – to achieve security and prosperity. From that perspective, anything that challenged our national interests was perceived as a threat or a risk to be managed. For forty years our nation prospered and was kept secure through a strategy of containment (read: mutually assured destruction, or MAD - the editors). That strategy relied on control, deterrence, and the conviction that given the choice, people the world over share our vision for a better tomorrow. America emerged from the Twentieth Century as the most powerful nation on earth. But we failed to recognize that dominance, like fossil fuel, is not a sustainable source of energy. The new century brought with it a reminder that the world, in fact, is a complex, open system – constantly changing. And change brings with it uncertainty. What we really failed to recognize, is that in uncertainty and change, there is opportunity and hope.
It is time for America to re-focus our national interests and principles through a long lens on the global environment of tomorrow. It is time to move beyond a strategy of containment to a strategy of sustainment (sustainability); from an emphasis on power and control to an emphasis on strength and influence; from a defensive posture of exclusion, to a proactive posture of engagement. We must recognize that security means more than defense, and sustaining security requires adaptation and evolution, the leverage of converging interests and interdependencies. To grow we must accept that competitors are not necessarily adversaries, and that a winner does not demand a loser. We must regain our credibility as a leader among peers, a beacon of hope, rather than an island fortress. It is only by balancing our interests with our principles that we can truly hope to sustain our growth as a nation and to restore our credibility as a world leader. As we focus on the opportunities within our strategic environment, however, we must also address risk and threat. It is important to recognize that developing credible influence to pursue our enduring national interests in a sustainable manner requires strength with restraint, power with patience, deterrence with detente. The economic, diplomatic, educational, military, and commercial tools through which we foster that credibility must always be tempered and hardened by the values that define us as a people.
Our Values and Enduring National Interests
America was founded on the core values and principles enshrined in our Constitution and proven through war and peace. These values have served as both our anchor and our compass, at home and abroad, for more than two centuries. Our values define our national character, and they are our source of credibility and legitimacy in everything we do. Our values provide the bounds within which we pursue our enduring national interests. When these values are no longer sustainable, we have failed as a nation, because without our values, America has no credibility. As we continue to evolve, these values are reflected in a wider global application: tolerance for all cultures, races, and religions; global opportunity for self-fulfillment; human dignity and freedom from exploitation; justice with compassion and equality under internationally recognized rule of law; sovereignty without tyranny, with assured freedom of expression; and an environment for entrepreneurial freedom and global prosperity, with access to markets, plentiful water and arable soil, clean and abundant energy, and adequate health services.
From the earliest days of the Republic, America has depended on a vibrant free market and an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit to be the engines of our prosperity. Our strength as a world leader is largely derived from the central role we play in the global economy. Since the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944, the United States has been viewed as an anchor of global economic security and the U.S. dollar has served as an internationally recognized medium of exchange, the monetary standard. The American economy is the strongest in the world and likely to remain so well into the foreseeable future. Yet, while the dramatic acceleration of globalization over the last fifteen years has provided for the cultural, intellectual and social comingling among people on every continent, of every race, and of every ideology, it has also increased international economic interdependence and has made a narrowly domestic economic perspective an unattractive impossibility. Without growth and competition economies stagnate and wither, so sustaining America’s prosperity requires a healthy global economy. Prosperity at home and through global economic competition and development is then, one of America’s enduring national interests.
It follows logically that prosperity without security is unsustainable. Security is a state of mind, as much as it is a physical aspect of our environment. For Americans, security is very closely related to freedom, because security represents freedom from anxiety and external threat, freedom from disease and poverty, freedom from tyranny and oppression, freedom of expression but also freedom from hurtful ideologies, prejudice and violations of human rights. Security cannot be safeguarded by borders or natural barriers; freedom cannot be secured with locks or by force alone. In our complex, interdependent, and constantly changing global environment, security is not achievable for one nation or by one people alone; rather it must be recognized as a common interest among all peoples. Otherwise, security is not sustainable, and without it there can be no peace of mind. Security, then, is our other enduring national interest.
Our Three Investment Priorities
As Americans we have access to a vast array of resources. Perhaps the most important first step we can take, as part of a National Strategy, is to identify which of these resources are renewable and sustainable, and which are finite and diminishing. Without doubt, our greatest resource is America’s young people, who will shape and execute the vision needed to take this nation forward into an uncertain future. But this may require a reawakening, of sorts. Perhaps because our nation has been so blessed over time, many of us have forgotten that rewards must be earned, there is no “free ride” – that fair competition and hard work bring with them a true sense of accomplishment. We can no longer expect the ingenuity and labor of past generations to sustain our growth as a nation for generations to come. We must embrace the reality that with opportunity comes challenge, and that retooling our competitiveness requires a commitment and investment in the future.
Inherent in our children is the innovation, drive, and imagination that have made, and will continue to make, this country great. By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans – the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow – we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future. Our first investment priority, then, is intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America’s youth.
Our second investment priority is ensuring the nation’s sustainable security – on our own soil and wherever Americans and their interests take them. As has been stated already, Americans view security in the broader context of freedom and peace of mind. Rather than focusing primarily on defense, the security we seek can only be sustained through a whole of nation approach to our domestic and foreign policies. This requires a different approach to problem solving than we have pursued previously and a hard look at the distribution of our national treasure. For too long, we have underutilized sectors of our government and our citizenry writ large, focusing intensely on defense and protectionism rather than on development and diplomacy. This has been true in our approach to domestic and foreign trade, agriculture and energy, science and technology, immigration and education, public health and crisis response, Homeland Security and military force posture. Security touches each of these and must be addressed by leveraging all the strengths of our nation, not simply those intended to keep perceived threat a safe arm’s length away.
America is a resplendent, plentiful and fertile land, rich with natural resources, bounded by vast ocean spaces. Together these gifts are ours to be enjoyed for their majesty, cultivated and harvested for their abundance, and preserved for following generations. Many of these resources are renewable, some are not. But all must be respected as part of a global ecosystem that is being tasked to support a world population projected to reach nine billion peoples midway through this century. These resources range from crops, livestock, and potable water to sources of energy and materials for industry. Our third investment priority is to develop a plan for the sustainable access to, cultivation and use of, the natural resources we need for our continued wellbeing, prosperity and economic growth in the world marketplace.