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The “Foreign Policy” Debate – Dr. Lori Murray

Note from the Tennessee World Affairs Council President

The Tennessee World Affairs Council is pleased to share an essay by Dr. Lori Murray, President and CEO of the World Affairs Councils of America, which addresses a critical lack of attention among American citizens and politicians to international affairs. She correctly points out that there is no separation between domestic and foreign affairs in “our indisputably interconnected world.”

Dr. Murray goes on to discuss the nationwide effort of the member World Affairs Councils to bring attention to “Six Top National Security” issues to be at the forefront of debate and discussion in the lead up to the 2012 elections. This World Affairs Council will participate in this important campaign to bring programs and resources to our fellow Tennesseans to connect the national debates to America’s challenges and roles in the world. Meanwhile, we provide Dr. Murray’s thoughtful essay, which appeared in the “Huffington Post” yesterday, here for your consideration.

The World Affairs Councils of America is the largest association of nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations in the country working to engage Americans in international affairs and foreign policy. The Tennessee World Affairs Council is an independent member of its network which includes almost 100 councils in the United States.  We welcome your interest and participation among our Council’s membership to advance these purposes.

Patrick W. Ryan


The “Foreign Policy” Debate
Dr. Lori E. Murray

The campaign debate on “foreign policy” is an antiquated structure and misses the most significant and historic change since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the explosion of the internet — that the divide between foreign and domestic policy no longer exists. To discuss it as though there is such a divide — to date there have been 11 “domestic” GOP debates and 1 “foreign policy” debate — distorts both the challenges and the solutions in our indisputably interconnected world.

The news media, debate sponsors and moderators, and the candidates need to recognize this and recognize it quickly if we are going to have the discussion that American voters need to make their decisions in the November 2012 elections.

Polling trends show that we are down to 33% of Americans who believe it is best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs. Americans are believing this at a time when the global changes taking place are tectonic and inseparable from our problems here at home. To continue the debate format and the campaign discussions divided between “domestic” issues and “foreign” issues only reinforces the false notion that we have the luxury of such a division and can ignore the latter if we choose. This is a reality distortion we cannot afford. The American public, which has to shoulder the burden of adapting and adapting quickly and agilely to these historic 21st century challenges, deserves better than that.

Last Spring, my own organization, the World Affairs Councils of America, the country’s largest non-partisan, non-profit network of over 90 local and regional councils across the country, asked its leadership to vote on the “Top Six” national security issues that needed to be debated and discussed in the 2012 election. The survey results from these citizen leaders in 40 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, demonstrated exactly this point, that there is no longer a divide. The number one national security issue was U.S. education, competing globally. US economic competiveness, US energy policy joined the Middle East, China and Afghanistan/Pakistan in the “Six Top National Security Issues” category.

At out 2011 National Conference in DC last week, we launched our national network discussion on these “Six Top National Security Issues.” On each of the panels addressing the “Six Top” issues with leading policy makers and analysts, the domestic and foreign issues were so clearly interwoven. Terrorism, nuclear security, trade, debt, taxes and deficits, education, the tumult in the Middle East, China, US energy challenges were either domestic issues which could not be solved without foreign policy solutions or vice versa.

US global leadership is impossible without a strong US economy. A strong US economy is impossible without a US education system that is preparing our next generation to be global citizens–innovators and problem solvers, the 21st century workforce. Our relations with China, the largest single holder of US debt at about $1.2 trillion, are deeply intertwined with our jobs, trade, debt and deficit problems. US energy policy challenges are driven by our policies in the Middle East and our policies towards the Afghanistan/Pakistan region are focused on preventing an attack on US soil. This is the new national security. It needs to be reflected in the 2012 election discussions and debate and integrated into every facet of those discussions.

As Thomas Jefferson wisely noted, “the bulwark of a strong democracy is an informed citizenry.” In prior periods of economic downturn, America and American politics have turned inward. In the 21st century economy and with the 21st century threats, that is not an option. American politics needs to drop the pretense that it is.

Dr. Lori E. Murray is the President and CEO of the World Affairs Councils of America, the largest non-partisan, non-profit network of local and regional councils across the United States dedicated to educating and engaging the American public on the critical global issues of our times.