Inward Bound

FOREIGN POLICY IN A TIME OF AUSTERITY

Writing about foreign policy in the 2012 election means traveling second class, or even in steerage. To assess the diminution of foreign policy as an issue in U.S. politics, one need merely note that participants in the endless Republican primary debates turned to the topic only when attacking President Barack Obama or seeking relief from “social issues.” But the world won’t go away, and the United States, for reasons both moral and practical, cannot simply abandon world politics while we debate social issues and try to fix the economy.

To understand the content of any given foreign policy, it is useful to begin with the domestic context in which it is formulated. Here in the United States, that context is shaped by the psychic and political burdens of a decade of war and five years of financial crisis and recession. Those burdens have left large parts of the electorate exhausted and wanting a break from foreign entanglements. As a result, our foreign policy right now is focused on how to close out the Afghan war and direct national resources toward challenges of unemployment, debt, foreclosures, and investment. This focus marks a change in the way domestic priorities and foreign policy are now broadly seen. In the past, expenditures for national security were off limits when spending cuts were required. Now, however, $500 billion is proposed for defense cuts over the next decade, and many believe deeper cuts will...

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About the Author

The Reverend J. Bryan Hehir is president of Catholic Charities USA and Distinguished Professor of Ethics and International Affairs at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.