Other’s opinion: Foreign policy is on the ballot, too

Published 6:30 am Saturday, October 31, 2020

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Star Tribune

The 2020 campaign has mostly focused on domestic dynamics. But because most issues are internationally interrelated, foreign policy is on the ballot, too.

The meshing of the global and national could be called “inter-mestic,” former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said during a virtual Council of Foreign Relations forum on Monday.

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“People are totally consumed by the domestic issues happening here, which is COVID, the economy and health care; they all have an international context,” Albright said, adding: “One of the things that is going to be in the next president’s inbox is the connection between domestic and foreign policy.”

The pandemic, for instance, “has very deep foreign policy implications; how it started, where it came from, and how it’s going to have to be dealt with in the future.”

President Donald Trump talks mostly about the first two questions, often renaming (and politically reframing) the issue by calling it the “China virus.”

And while Beijing’s coronavirus coverup is a legitimate foreign policy issue, what’s more profound for the next president is the third issue listed by Albright — the future. The next administration will face both near-term challenges, with the fall spike in infection and hospitalization rates, and long-term issues such as vaccine acceptance and distribution.

Getting the coronavirus crisis under control is job one. “If we do not get this virus and the pandemic under control, we’re not going to have the bandwidth as a society economically, politically, to focus on the world,” said Albright’s co-panelist Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “This issue began internationally and is obviously all-too-real domestically. We’re also not going to set an example that the world will respect if we don’t get it into control.”

Global respect may seem ephemeral to some voters. Indeed, most Trump supporters admire the president’s blunt, America-first message, even if it alienates allies and emboldens adversaries. But respect is necessary to support the partnerships needed to address vexing transnational challenges that await either Trump or Joe Biden.

Mentioning tensions with China, climate change, COVID and other challenges, Haass said that there are a “whole set of global issues where there is a pretty large gap between the importance of the issue and the willingness and ability of the world to come together and deal with it. … The basic truth is we can’t resolve these issues, we can’t contend with them effectively on our own. So, it’s going to be fashioning some sort of global, multilateral approaches to deal with these challenges.”

Multilateralism isn’t surrendering sovereignty. It’s a force multiplier that benefits Americans, who, thanks to generations of generally bipartisan foreign-policy approaches, have allies who Haass said are “predisposed to work with us either on immediate security questions in their part of the world, in Europe or Asia, or potentially to work with us on tackling global challenges.” China and Russia don’t naturally have these partnerships, Haass added.

Voters should value this advantage and choose a president — and congressional candidates — who will reject isolationism and invest in international partnerships.