Policies of Scale: Efficient Global Policy

Five Questions for the Presidential Candidates that Re-link Economics with Foreign Policy

One of the best pieces written by someone associated with either presidential campaign that I’ve seen is Robert Zoellick’s “The Currency of Power,” which appears in Foreign Policy’s November issue. In it, he bemoans the disconnection of economics from foreign policy in American thought.” He begins by quoting Australia’s foreign minister, Bob Carr, who said that “The United States is one budget deal away from restoring its global preeminence.” He moves on to Mike Mullen’s famous quote to CNN that “The most significant threat to our national security is our debt.” The two punch lines, at least for me, were Zoellick’s comments that:

“Today, the power of deficits, debt, and economic trend lines to shape security is staring the United States in the face. Others see it, even if America does not.”


“We scarcely understand [economics’] effects on power, influence, diplomacy, ideas, and human rights.”

I could not agree more. Zoellick, the current president of the World Bank, heads Romney’s National Security transition team and is rumored to be Romney’s pick for either Secretary of State or Treasury head. Two of Romney’s five-pillared fiscal plan, more trade agreements with Latin America and cracking down on China “when and if it cheats,” fall directly into the overlap between economy and foreign policy that Zoellick outlines in his piece, which is not just lip service – Zoellick appears to be getting through to his boss. Unsurprisingly, no one in the media is responding to economic ideas as foreign policy material, and Zoellick points this out with a discouraged tone.

As one example, he points out that the euro crisis threatens the integration of Europe, “one of the 20th Century’s greatest security-policy achievements and America’s closest ally and partner,” issues well within the wheelhouse of foreign policy. Yet, when questions about the euro crisis arise, they are discussed, and categorized, as economic. While I take issue with the implication that the collapse of the European Monetary Union could lead to a security crisis or even a meaningful weakening of the security structure America helped build and sustain after World War II, the point is nonetheless valid.

Zoellick does an fine job explaining why economics and foreign policy have diverged into two separate topics, delinked from each other, so I want to take up the next step and suggest five questions for the upcoming presidential debates, both of which will include foreign policy, that would demonstrate each candidates’ understanding of how the two issues are interconnected.

1. How would you harness America’s commercial relationships to advance American foreign policy?

Some, like Joseph Nye, the man responsible for the popular “soft power” theory, have said that the US needs to be much better at advancing its interests peacefully given growing global opposition to violent foreign policy means. The Department of Commerce has its own foreign service, not as well-known as the State Department’s Foreign Service, which is responsible for creating and advancing commercial contacts between American businesses and foreign markets. The US Trade Representative, responsible to the president, is tasked with leading trade negotiations. The private sector is quite adept at creating and expanding its own commercial networks abroad as well. The Chamber of Commerce, for example, has numerous programs for its members that help them expand into foreign markets. US foreign aid is often issued on the caveat that recipients be responsive to America’s foreign policy goals, many of which are aimed at pushing American values. Surely, though, America’s vast commercial connections multiply the opportunities we have to advance our interests and values beyond the already established mechanisms.

2. Would you help expand American universities abroad?

Our universities train the future leaders of the world as well as many of the managerial class, and promote our approaches to these people. Zoellick employs a useful example of the US using its share of the indemnity imposed on China after the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 to establish Tsinghua University in Beijing and provide scholarships to Chinese students to study in the US. The American university system, including those domestic and abroad, provide a non-governmental means of spreading a Western world view, especially to parts of the world largely unexposed to the West. The government has been relatively inactive in establishing or promoting US academic institutions abroad, which is especially unfortunate given what some believe is the reality of America losing the war of ideas with “ideological challenges to US national security” while madrasas proliferate, even in somewhat Western-oriented countries like Turkey.

3. Would you allow more or less foreign students into the US, would you adjust the amount of time they are currently allowed to stay, and would you reduce or increase the amount of conditions placed on their ability to stay after finishing their studies?

An expansion of #2 to include immigration views, foreign students not only gain extensive experience with the American way of life and values, but they serve as ambassadors when they go home. Once home, they have the legitimacy of being natives, so when they speak about America they can have far greater impact that embassy outreach. Further, countless foreign leaders are US-educated, and it’s no coincidence that the increase of foreigners studying in the US parallels expansion of Western-influenced economic and political policy abroad. This makes foreign students a vital component of American foreign policy.

Many also stay in the US, or at least try to stay, after completing their studies and contribute profoundly to the US economy. Stats vary, but anecdotally over half of all Silicon Valley tech companies founded between 1995 and 2005 were founded by immigrants. This disproves the popular notion that skilled immigrants take jobs away from Americans; rather, by creating companies, they create jobs. Yet many of these entrepreneurs are stuck in “immigration limbo,” and are going home because their ambiguous status in the US creates disincentives to create companies, buy homes, and start families. Their ambiguous status also gives their employers reasons to lay them off, potentially depriving the company of corporate knowledge and productive employees that are expensive to replace.

4. What approach to the global economic system do you favor?

The Bretton Woods system, a foundational component of the global instructional structure built with American leadership after World War II to address the economic causes of the two World Wars, was rendered useless when Richard Nixon ended the gold standard. The institutions that grew around it and remain extremely relevant today have, among other goals, the aim of spreading peace through economic liberalization. The system has been effective despite some unintended consequences. But the structure of the world’s balance of power is changing. Think of the addition of the G20 to G7/8, and the growing push behind changes to the IMF and World Bank that would allow “emerging powers” like Brazil, India, and China to have more institutional influence than they currently wield, as examples. These sorts of changes, depending on how they are structured, could have profound effects on the distribution of global power and the types of economic systems advanced by the institutions. I do not expect either candidate to fully support these changes, but it is quite possible that they may support the concept of including more countries in the inner circle of global decision makers. Or, perhaps, one of them may prefer undermining the integrity – and importance – of that circle’s very existence. A third response could be to suggest one’s own changes that more or less maintain the integrity and power of the current system, but marginalize those states believed to challenge America’s goals and place at the center of the system, which would look a lot like maintaining the status quo.

5. What would you envision America’s role in the Middle East being if we could significantly cut our usage of their oil?

This is a quasi-trick question. One of the many fallacies about “energy independence” is that by getting off Middle Eastern oil, we could significantly reduce our footprint in region and limit our exposure to oil-related geopolitical turbulence. The US depends as much on the global economy as anyone, and the global economy depends on the free and safe flow of oil in and out of the Middle East. Without a significant foreign security presence, the flow of oil will become far less free and safe, putting the global economy into jeopardy on a regular enough basis to cause costly volatility in vital overseas markets and the global oil market, which our gasoline prices would still be based on. Essentially, so long as the world depends on Middle Eastern oil, the US depends on it, too. And as the only country with the ability to adequately protect that oil, we shoot ourselves in the foot by removing ourselves from the region. Any answer that does not acknowledge these facts will lack a connection to the reality of global energy and its role in the economy.

I’m curious to hear your ideas for questions for the presidential candidates that link economics with foreign policy. Please Tweet them to me (@AaronMenenberg) over the rest of the week, and I will post a follow-up to this entry next week with the questions I receive.

13 Responses to “Five Questions for the Presidential Candidates that Re-link Economics with Foreign Policy”

davidjmicheljrOctober 10th, 2012 at 11:53 pm

you can't say anything positive about romney,you will pissoff brad delong the head cheerleader for obama! you could talk to brad about this,but you would have to pry his lipps off obamas ass!

DiranMOctober 14th, 2012 at 6:47 am

The questions are worth discussing. OK this website has a very liberal bias. Strange how people who ordinarily are good thinkers, fall into the Messiah trap with BHO and cannot seem him as an ordinary mortal. BHO is affirmative action on steriods – instead of integration, you have deification!

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