Recently, America quietly observed a tragic anniversary: exactly twenty years since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
That war of choice, facilitated by the febrile atmosphere of the 9/11 attacks and endorsed by a decisive majority of the Washington, D.C., establishment — of both parties — set in motion a redefinition of America’s place in the world, and a series of conversations on America’s global mission, that are still unfolding today.
In the lead up to the 2016 election, the faculty lounges of the Ivy League universities and the self-proclaimed national security experts that saturate the mainstream news outlets warned of the imminent danger to America that would follow should Donald Trump be elected president.
Those predictions fell flat, of course, but not lost on the minds of the American people was this very sort of thinking which led to much of the foreign policy catastrophes of the prior two decades.
Though short lived, an America first approach to national security was instituted, and Americans — some of whom had only known a nation at war — experienced an America that did not seek out new conflict nor retreat from challenge when tested.
These new policies ushered in the strongest economy in half a decade as well as energy independence for the first time in nearly 70 years, and re-investing in the American military as well as the border patrol adhered to “Peace through Strength” mantra that secured American victory in the Cold War.
More, we took the unprecedented steps of opening communication channels with a nuclear weapon-wielding North Korea, levied critical tariffs on Chinese imports, ended the reign of terrorist leader Qasem Soleimani and demanded that our allies pay their fair share towards the world’s defense.
The wounded footing on which America now stands in 2023 is the direct result of an administration that has capitulated to a far-left movement and — in turn — the regimes that represent the gravest threats to world peace.
From the ceding to the climate lobby’s green utopian dreams resulting in reliance on foreign energy production to the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan that led Russian President Vladimir Putin to believe that he could get away with launching an unprovoked war in Europe without a major response to a porous border where human trafficking and deadly drugs run rampant, the threats to the safety and security of Americans could be no higher.
The great and unfolding conversation over national security and foreign policy concerns every single American — and so it would make sense that it would be happening across the whole of American civic life. But it isn’t.
The great effort at discernment, innovation, and prudence in these spheres is happening almost entirely on the right.
The left is frozen in its adherence to the dead dicta of the old regime, a mindless globalism that adheres to platitudes that might have been fruitful in 1994 or even 2004. Just recently, John Kerry visited Mexico City and praised the Mexican president for his “wisdom” in cooperating on climate goals.
The Mexican president, of course, is a major cartel ally and abettor who may, in a future conservative administration in the United States, find a less friendly sort of American visitor entering his country. But the regime we have, the regime of the left, cannot adapt to events.
They are sclerotic, uncomprehending and anti-intellectual, and it shows, from the Taliban entering Kabul to fentanyl entering your neighborhood playground.
So, in the absence of any meaningful contribution from the left, the future of America abroad is forged on the right. We do not all share the same views, such as how and to what extent the United States should be involved in the Ukrainian defense, and that is a good thing, as we are each compelled to sharpen our arguments and advocacy.
But we do mostly share the same understandings: we believe in the real sovereignty of the nation, and we believe that America is fundamentally good and that it is a positive virtue to put America first.
The American tradition and inheritance contain sufficient answers for our challenges now — if we have the wisdom to rediscover and apply it not as mimicry, nor as a re-run of a favored past, but as genuine adaptation to this moment.
The benevolent but armed neutrality of Washington, Adams and Quincy Adams, the strategic perspicacity and aggression of Jefferson and Jackson, the singular mission-driven vision of Lincoln and Reagan, and the managerial prudence of Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush all have their place in informing American engagement in the world now. Even as we create a new consensus, we build upon the foundations laid by giants.
Nearly two centuries ago, a young Abraham Lincoln paid homage to American strength: “All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth … could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.”
The America First national security approach exists to vindicate that confidence, in an America strong and free.
Brooke Rollins, President and CEO of America First Policy Institute.
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