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Preble Talks New, Critical Approach to U.S. Foreign Policy

The United States is not invested enough in diplomacy, according to Christopher Preble, co-director of the New American Engagement Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

“The United States has to invest in diplomacy,” Preble said. “We are not invested as a people in diplomacy. We don’t even think about it much.”

Preble offered students a new way to challenge their beliefs about current U.S. foreign policy in his lecture titled “Biden’s Foreign Policy Agenda” on Thursday night in Gasson Hall.

As part of his approach, Preble emphasized recruiting young, inspired people to join the field of foreign policy and make the U.S. more attractive to non-U.S. citizens.

“The United States has to become, again, the magnet for the world’s talent,” Preble said. “We were, we have been, we are not now, and that’s a problem.”

Preble discussed the necessity of the U.S. becoming a beacon of innovation and progression like it had been in the aftermath of World War II. If the U.S. is going to compete for economic advancement against world powers such as Russia and China, Preble said the country needs to attract entrepreneurs.

“We have got to be a place where people want to come and work, and invent, and be entrepreneurs, and we are not the leaders on that,” Preble said. “We have lost a lot of ground in a short amount of time.”

Preble said the U.S. is facing budget issues regarding foreign and domestic policy. Many of the president’s liberal supporters want the U.S. to spend money domestically, not on foreign policy purposes which include military spending, Preble said.

“A fiscal problem that was bad in 2019, is worse in 2022,” said Preble. “One way or the other this has to be resolved, but one thing I am certain of is that the military budget is not going to go away.”

According to Preble, global competition for the U.S. will not involve the military. A non-confrontational strategy is necessary because potential military action has been stunted by the United States’ relatively small military budget.

“The competition that we are entering into is not going to be mostly military,” said Preble. “It does not play to [the United States’] strengths.”

Confrontation is a “zero-sum” game and would be catastrophic given the current budgetary issues facing the U.S., Preble said.

“We need a new form of American global engagement,” Preble said.

According to Preble, this new form of engagement would come through helping rising democracies in countries around the world. Preble said this has tradeoffs, however, that include placing penalties on countries that stray from the democratic model.

Preble highlighted early issues facing this new form of engagement, citing a decision the Biden Administration made in November to expel three African countries from the “African Growth and Opportunity Act,” which provides African countries duty-free access to goods.

“The president wants to elevate democracy, and sort of do things to raise [other] countries up economically, but he’s got to make a choice,” said Preble. “[The countries] were kicked out of this program because they were not upholding their principles of democracy.”

Preble also gave his perspective on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and said Biden’s handling of the situation is limited.

“There are clear limits to how far … [Biden] is willing to go,” said Preble. “[The conflict is] not existential to U.S. national security or prosperity.”

Preble further described Biden’s administration as straying away from the military interventionist model of foreign policy and moving toward controlling escalations through economic sanctions similar to the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

“Biden has talked about crippling economic sanctions in the event of an invasion [of Ukraine],” Preble said.

Preble said he believes the domestic politics support Biden’s handling of the Russia-Ukraine conflict to this point, but the country still has much to revise regarding its foreign policy.

Roberto Soler, CSOM ’25, said he appreciated Preble’s new approach to U.S. foreign relations and that it is important to explore the topic of foreign relations.

“The work of the New American Engagement Initiative at the Atlantic Council is fresh,” Soler said. “It’s a new way to view American politics abroad.”

In concluding his speech, Preble said the U.S. could learn something from history to make a change for the better.

“Once upon a time, the United States of America really punched above its weight diplomatically,” Preble said. “We can learn something from that.”

Featured Image by Steve Mooney / Heights Editor

February 19, 2022