The Domestic Foundations of American Grand Strategy
For all its virtues, though, this kind of deﬁnition offers little analytical traction for understanding the various instrumentalities available for advancing foreign policy goals. Nor does it fully acknowledge how a country’s internal priorities can shape its political and economic fortunes. Plainly, not every domestic priority matters equally to a country’s international position. Decisions about urban infrastructure, mental health policy, and white collar criminal enforcement, for example, are not entirely irrelevant to the United States’ capacity to advance its interests globally. But it would strain credulity to place these on the same plane as, for instance, the nation’s capacity to decide on and execute a responsible ﬁscal policy, or its ability to forge an education system capable of serving the needs of 50 million public school students. Observers who give weight to the concept of “grand strategy” may often readily concede that its scope must include the domestic sources of national strength. The capacity of the United States to advance its interests and shape its international environment nonetheless reﬂects far more than conventional military and foreign affairs matters. Whatever deﬁnition one chooses for the words “grand strategy,” it would border on madness for policymakers not to consider how well the United States is equipped, domestically, to take advantage of the country’s distinctive attributes and to address its distinctive challenges so it can better advance its national interests. Given their considerable role in shaping the country’s material conditions, its security, and domestic and international perceptions, the following four issues would loom especially large in the resulting discussion.
During the last half-century or so, American policymakers have often professed a commitment to providing high-quality education to all school-age residents in the country. Other countries take this imperative seriously, and the US has taken some strides in recent decades towards better assessing education achievement (or its absence) and making the education sector somewhat more ﬂexible and capable of innovation. In the main, however, policymakers’ professed commitment to equity and excellence in education is not one the country has honored. In math, the average African American eighth-grader is performing at the 19th percentile relative to white students, and the average Latino student is at the 26th percentile. Given these inequities and the rigidities in the American education system, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment ranked the United States twenty-seventh in mathematics, for example. Education thus helps explain not only income inequality in the United States, but also the country’s changing economic fortunes.