Some may see tonight’s debate on foreign policy as a distraction. They will question the need for a discussion of topics that seem, at first glance, distant from the concerns of unemployed Americans. Yet the growth that will create jobs for those seeking work depends upon a robust U.S. posture around the world. Without assertive U.S. power projection, American companies encounter greater risk, higher costs, and lower revenues, making it more difficult for firms to add new employees. The Republican nominee for president must make this connection in the campaign against President Obama.
In arguing that President Obama has not protected American jobs on the international stage, the Republican nominee can point to two areas. The first concerns the creation of a secure global environment for commerce. The administration has not halted Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon, has taken a hands-off approach to shaping outcomes in the Arab Spring, has endangered gains in Iraq, and has undermined a sustainable solution in Afghanistan. The White House also has not satisfied the concerns of allies who worry that they face alone the threat from North Korea and the challenge of a rising China. As a result of these and other missteps, American influence has waned and instability has increased.
The second policy set consists of those government actions that directly influence the sales, bids, and operations of American companies. In regions such as Central Asia, Africa, and Latin America, American companies often face steeper odds in winning new business than firms from countries whose governments provide more support. Intellectual-property theft also continues to evaporate the investment of time and money in product and process development by U.S. firms. A glacial pace on trade development worsens the situation further: Years of delays leading up to the administration’s submission to Congress of three trade agreements this fall, for example, allowed European and Canadian firms to gain footholds ahead of American companies in Korea and Panama, respectively.
It is not a coincidence that the U.S. built its global economic leadership during an era when the world operated under an American security umbrella. Now, as frontier markets increasingly enjoy the highest growth rates and international economic exchange becomes ever more interconnected, the U.S. is failing to take advantage of opportunities and lean far enough forward in favor of American economic interests. The Republican nominee needs to present a foreign-policy approach that would work harder for American businesses and American jobs.
— Charlie Szrom is an associate at DC International Advisory.