Principles in the Paradox: United States Foreign Policy

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"Don't do stupid s***." I have said this to my three boys when they were going out for the weekend in high school, but there is a different context for this slogan.

This supposedly is a premise upon which the Obama administration bases much of its foreign policy. And recently, and with justification, Hillary Clinton criticized this by saying that philosophy is not an organizing principle and great nations need organizing principles in foreign policy. But where are both major political parties and leading candidates for president on enunciating clear and compelling goals and objectives for American foreign policy? It seems the only compelling case each side makes these days is criticism.

The Republican establishment attacks Sen. Rand Paul for being an isolationist and not supporting military interventions; Hillary Clinton suggests that President Obama isn't "hawkish" enough on foreign policy; many commentators yell that we aren't defending our friends enough, or doing more on humanitarian crises. Some suggest President Obama is too much of an interventionist and hasn't done more for peace, others say he is feckless and slow to act and has not used the military enough. And the words go round and round without anyone really spelling out a clear foreign policy vision, and most Americans (and the world) are confused about exact what our strategy is and what it has accomplished.

America hasn't had a clear foreign policy vision and strategy for at least twenty years. And our country and the world has suffered because of this. The United States isn't the only powerful country in the world, but it is the only superpower. And with this great power comes grave responsibility. It is incumbent on our leaders and future leaders to spell out a clear, effective foreign policy vision. And in that context, spell out the uses of our military as we seek to accomplish that vision.

Yes, our great nation needs organizing principles that are pillars of an overall broad foreign policy division. Principles that the majority of the country can support and that are not driven from a partisan standpoint. And let me suggest that we will find these through the great paradox of leadership -- where seeming opposite values present a choice, but the path of being a leader is standing in the center and balancing these opposing dynamics. We are a powerful nation, but we can't solve every problem in the world. We need leaders who can say that and then give the public a clear direction of the manner in which we will act in the world.

In my view, there are five important principles in this place of paradox that should help drive the strategy of our country in the world.

1. We need a foreign policy that is both idealistic and pragmatic. A vision that has moral weight and underpinnings, but is also practical and realistic. Foreign policy that is merely idealistic causes us to feel good, but usually ends up with bigger blunders and not properly estimating the practical application of decisions. And a policy that is only pragmatic causes us to lapse into an ends-justify-the-means dynamic and not being seen as a leader in the world of moving us all to a better place.

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