This is a guest note by Josh Meah, an intern alum with the New America Foundation’s American Strategy Program. He blogs occasionally at The Washington Note.
Note to White House: It’s the Economy, Stxpxd!
Whatever President Obama says about global affairs–on virtually any issue–is not going to matter unless he starts leading a long-term recovery at the source of America’s power: the economy.
2009 was a year where al-Qaeda again dominated thinking in the executive office and distracted from a sensible design of America’s priorities. America played defense in preventing the worst of the financial crisis and offense against al-Qaeda in South Asia.
2009 was the year when America tried to put up a smokescreen to hide the limits of American power. Lots of trips abroad, a non-binding compact to get something done about climate-change, a decision to replace the G-8 with the G-20, a superficial declaration to Israel to stop building settlements, and a speech to the Muslim world to essentially stop worrying about American policy changed what TWN‘s publisher Steve Clemons has called the “optics of power,” but they did not and cannot independently change real power.
Military power and soft power are manifestations of economic power, and America needs to harness its economic power over the coming years to remain competitive and active in key areas of global leadership.
Today, superpowers face real limitations regarding the prospect of using massive militaries to reap large economic rewards. Were military power to necessarily still translate back into economic power, then America would be receiving far more favorable outcomes in the bidding process for Iraqi oil.
But in today’s world, economic power will be the gold standard for victory in power politics–plain and simple. It is people, not politics, that undergird economic power, and the rise of Asia and the supposed decline of America and all of the corresponding security concerns are first and foremost economic in nature.
Furthermore, the source of the American way of life and American economic power comes from America’s manufacturing prowess, schools, modern infrastructure, entrepreneurship, technological superiority, and protection of property rights, and, most importantly, culture.
As those sources of American power are continually neglected, America’s global posture will steadily erode.
As the Obama administration begins the next year, it would do well to remember that Obama’s most critical speech was held in neither Oslo nor at West Point. It was at the Brookings Institution, where he outlined a plan to get America back on track economically.
The achievement of the goals in that latter speech should be the paramount objective for the Obama administration in 2010.
If Obama isn’t careful, he’ll become a one-term, irrelevant president — a flash in the pan of global history and the real overseer of America’s decline. No one wants that, not least the once mesmerized people who elected him.
— Josh Meah