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Put America's House in Order

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
Issue15, 2014
American Review


The biggest threat to America's security and prosperity comes not from abroad but from within. The United States has jeopardised its ability to act effectively in the world because of runaway domestic spending, underinvestment in human and physical capital, an avoidable financial crisis, an unnecessarily slow recovery, a war in Iraq that was flawed from the outset and a war in Afghanistan that became flawed as its purpose evolved, recurring fiscal deficits, and deep political divisions.

For the United States to continue to act successfully abroad, it must restore the domestic foundations of its power. Foreign policy needs to begin at home, now and for the foreseeable future. In other words: less foreign policy of the sort the United States has conducted since the Second World War and more emphasis on domestic investment and policy reform.

Since the publication of my book Foreign Policy Begins at Home last year (which Jacob Heilbrunn reviewed in American Review) I have been making these arguments across the United States. For someone like me, a card-carrying member of the foreign policy establishment for nearly four decades, my thesis borders on heresy.

What got me to this point? More than anything else, it started with the second Iraq war (begun in 2003) and the Afghan troop surge initiated in 2009. I mention both because my differences over the trajectory of American foreign policy are not with a single party. Many participants in the foreign policy debate in both parties appear to have forgotten the injunction of former President John Quincy Adams that America "goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy," along with the lessons of Vietnam about the limits of military force and the tendency of local realities to prevail over global abstractions.

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