Assessing US Elections Part IV: Focusing on the Foreign Policy Frame
Previously published on May 21, 2010
As we attempt to make our union more perfect, we need to select the best possible national leaders. For that reason, using three basic frames, including a foreign policy frame, an economics frame, and a military/national security frame to address political issues allows us to better judge how successful a national leader can be. The economic frame differs from the foreign policy frame in that it focuses mainly on domestic issues and foreign issues that directly affect individuals within the Nation and around the world; the military frame differs in that it involves direct force and influence. Accordingly, the foreign policy frame generally revolves around diplomacy, world cooperation, and soft power.
Foreign policy has typically fallen under the duties of the President, but today the complex interactions between our Nation and other foreign bodies has expanded those responsibilities beyond the scope of the Presidency. As such, framing issues in the realm of foreign policy is important, because doing so allows national leaders, including the President, US Senators, and US Congressmen to better cope with the broad consequences that are attached to foreign policy matters. Additionally, properly framing issues gives voters the ability to assess a leader's capacity to understand how issues involving foreign bodies affect our Nation. As such, foreign policy issues, which do not necessarily involve economic or military elements, belong in the foreign policy frame.
Diplomacy requires effective communication between two or more nations. Leaders who fail to understand the importance of communicating with and properly engaging foreign bodies are those who lack the capacity to negotiate and ensure our interests are fulfilled. In recent years, the military has been bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, thus giving nations, such as Iran and North Korea, breathing room to engage in activities like building nuclear enrichment facilities and developing the capacity to construct nuclear weapons. Such scenarios, force our Nation to depend upon the skills and talents of our diplomats to ensure our interests are met. The result is a need for leaders who have the ability to successfully build and executive US soft power.
Only after the George W. Bush Administration changed course from a policy of ignoring those who would not give into our demands to open talks did we begin to address issues like the nuclearization of Iran and North Korea. Due to a poor foreign policy strategy, damage has been done to our world power as these governments, which we would prefer not have nuclear weapons, continue to build capacity. Under the Obama Administration, we have managed to push China and Russia to more or less support a policy of nonproliferation when it comes to these specific nations, yet soft power continues to largely be ineffective, at least for now. Ultimately, the downside to dealing with foreign policy issues is that any failure can mean disaster while strengthening relationships and achieving specific goals requires a mastery of soft skills as well as time.
Beyond diplomacy and world cooperation, the US has employed the use of soft power to persuade other nations to support the policies and direction that we espouse as Americans. Soft power is largely an indirect means of influencing other nations through foreign aid, world programs, and other actions beneficial to nations outside the US. In a changing world, especially since the end of the Cold War and the beginning of globalization, the US has struggled to redefine its role in the world. Without the polarizing force that was the struggle between communism and capitalism to align nations with America, it has been difficult for our Country to be a leader, as other major nations no longer see a need for our constant leadership.
After the attacks of September 11th, 2001, the Bush administration, likely due to the presence of Cold War leaders like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, attempted to polarize the world against Islamic terrorism with the US leading the effort. They essentially assumed nations that were not with the US were against the US and with the terrorists; this has obviously created problems. As a result, the US failed to take on a strong leadership role when it needed to do so. Of course, there is also a prevailing trend toward the democratization of the international community where all nations are pushing for more equal relationships. While the shortcomings of the Bush Administration exasperated this trend to the detriment of the United States, even if President Obama is a master of foreign policy, the US must still redefine its self as less of a ruler of the international community to be more of a leading member nation-state.
Furthermore, issues like trade and environmental policies directly relate to economic concerns, but they also involve world cooperation, i.e. world leaders must reconstruct the world so all nations benefit from economic growth while the economy needs to reward behavior that positively affects the environment, instead of negatively. This means a representative of the American people must be able to understand the broad interests of the Nation and be able to orient the restructuring of world functions, such that, we succeed in achieving environmental goals while maintaining broader US interests. Consequently, issues can be crossed-framed into more than one frame, thus enabling individuals to better understand the impact of these issues.
Facing global environmental concerns, for example, the US must maintain its relative economic standing as well as push the world toward healthier business practices; therefore, it is imperative to reduce greenhouse gases across the board instead of just among the major industrial powers. Another issue viewable through both a national security and foreign policy lens is the need for a uniform strategy in the fight against terrorism that preserves our military strength for a long-term struggle. Moving on, the issue of nuclear weapons is a foreign policy issues because it has, in the past, forced cooperation. If the world had solely viewed nuclear weapons as a military issue, cooperation probably would not have occurred and nuclear war may have devastated our planet.
Moreover, I continue to see the need and believe in the ability of the US to play a positive role in the world, yet as the world changes, the role of America shifts from a leadership role to one of less control. With soft power and direct force, the US still provides direction, but it is important for national leaders to understand the complete picture of foreign policy as the means in which our Nation deals with foreign bodies constantly changes. Consequentially, the nature of the foreign policy frame shifts and a leader must be able to use this shift to find an effective strategy when dealing with other nations. The Nation needs leaders that are able to reshape foreign policy. Just as military and economic issues change with time and require leaders that are dynamic, so do foreign policy issues.