Senator Hawley’s Speech on Rethinking America’s Foreign Policy Consensus

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Today Senator Hawley delivered a speech on rethinking America’s foreign policy consensus in light of a new era of great power competition at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

Speech text as prepared for delivery:

My theme today is America’s relationship with the world. And as any student of history knows, that relationship has always been unusual, for we are an unusual nation.

We were the first colony to break from its parent country. We were the first republic of the modern era, and the first republic in history to be governed by a middle class. We were, in short, a revolutionary nation, and all these years later, we live by that revolution still.

And this revolutionary, republican heritage has shaped all our dealings with the world beyond.

For our first century we ventured not abroad in search of monsters to destroy, in the words of John Quincy Adams–in fact, we ventured not abroad much at all.

And even today, the American public is rightly skeptical of open-ended commitments and rightly tired of endless wars. And yet we have rarely been content as a “status quo” power. We have long sought to make the world different–better–safer for our republic, and for our unique way of life.

Now we find ourselves at a new crossroads to an uncertain future. The long twilight struggle that defined American foreign policy for half a century has been over now for half as long. But the End of History has not yet arrived.

Almost thirty years ago, George HW Bush spoke eloquently of a New World Order in the aftermath of the Cold War, a new era of universal liberal values.

Instead, at this hour, we find ourselves embroiled in the longest war in our nation’s history, with no discernible end in sight; frequently at odds with our European allies over matters small and large; divided at home; searching for purpose abroad.

And all the while, the greatest threat to our nation’s security in decades rises in the East in the form of a martial, expansionist China.

And it is my argument to you today that our present foreign policy consensus, the cast of mind and expectations embraced by both major parties for the last twenty years, is not adequate to our time, and it is not right for our future.

This consensus has distracted us from the dangers at hand. It has left us unprepared for the challenges we face. And it has been rejected by the people of this nation.

I’m talking about the consensus I will call “progressive universalism,” the consensus of the New World Order, built around American hegemony and the goal of extending multilateral, rules-based patterns of cooperation to the entire international system.

This consensus anticipated–expected–the steady expansion of progressive ideas, progressive institutions and progressive values, worldwide.

And both of our major political parties embraced this vision, though in different guises.

The American Left emphasized the expansion of multilateral institutions and decision making. They prioritized cooperative bodies like NATO and the United Nations, and stressed international norms and international law as the building blocks of a progressive global order.

Their version of the universalist project saw the United States as indispensable, yes. But it also regarded America unilateral action as something to be avoided, even a danger.

And so left-leaning universalists pushed to integrate the United States more deeply into multilateral bodies and patterns of cooperation. Their aim has been to use American influence to expand a network of norms and rules-based partnerships around the globe.

On this approach, the international system would come to look more like America, and America would become inseparably bound to the international system.

American conservatives, on the other hand, took a somewhat different lesson from the end of the Cold War.

If the Left came to believe that everyone around the world shared the same values, then the Right concluded that everyone could share our values, and should.

For many conservatives, this meant building a world of democracies. And this ambition required in turn a willingness to force changes in hostile regimes, to attempt to democratize whole regions and cultures, while preserving the ability of our government to act on its own.

Conservatives have not fundamentally disagreed with their counterparts on the Left about the ultimate goal of creating a progressive international system. It’s just that they doubted it could be realized through multilateral institutions.

At the end of the day, conservatives didn’t trust anyone to get the job done but America. And for this reason, many conservatives embraced unilateralism and defended the projection of American power.

The differences between Left and Right on how precisely to achieve the universalist vision and how precisely to arrange its features have led to fights that are by now all-too familiar–the debate over multilateral vs. unilateral action, for example, or the proper jurisdiction of international tribunals.

But in the decades since the Cold War, Right and Left together have steadily expanded American commitments, have steadily expanded America’s military footprint, have steadily expanded America’s military involvement in every theater of the globe, in all manner of projects from election monitoring to punitive airstrikes to humanitarian aid.

And it is this consensus of Left and Right together that deserves fresh scrutiny.

More than that, it deserves replacement.

The universal, progressive international order never fully arrived because it was never fully rooted in reality. The unipolar moment at the Cold War’s end was bound to pass, and it has. That moment was an aberration–a triumphant one, of course–but one that offers no roadmap for our foreign policy today.

And most of the world never signed up for the universalist project to begin with: neither Russia nor China agreed to play the part assigned to them.

Meanwhile, the pursuit of the universalist dream left the United States without a clear strategic focus, but with metastasizing commitments–commitments that have been paid for in the dearly earned dollars of the American working class, and in the dearly precious lives of American soldiers.

And let’s not forget, as we honor our veterans, who these soldiers are. They are drawn overwhelmingly from middle- and working-class families, and from families with a history of military service.

The burden of this nation’s long wars has fallen disproportionately on these Americans, and this country cannot continue to ask them to fight on without a clear purpose and without clear priorities.

It is time for a new departure, based on America’s needs in this new century. Because the point of American foreign policy should not be to remake the world, but to keep Americans safe and prosperous.

And those aims are themselves in service to a higher one: to preserve, protect, and defend our unique way of democracy.

We are a republican nation, the first of its kind in history, and it is time we pursued a foreign policy in keeping with our national character and the national interests that character defines. And so we should begin here. With America’s history and America’s character.

We were the first republic in the world founded on the political power of a broad middle class. Though the rights of suffrage were too narrow at our founding, and the rights of citizenship unjustly constricted, still: this country was never governed by an ancestral aristocracy.

This country was founded by the middle of society, by the class of independent workmen and artisans and farmers.

They were the ones who supported the Revolution and sent their sons to die for it. They were the ones who ratified our Constitution. And that Constitution was written with them in mind.

Since our founding, the citizenship class has only expanded (though not without great struggle). And the character of our republic has only become more firmly entrenched.

Our culture, our economy, our whole theory of freedom is premised on the dignity and power of the working man and woman. Ours is a middle-class republic, and to preserve the American nation means to preserve the security and prosperity of the American middle.

This imperative forms the basis of our interests in the world.

We seek an international order where we can practice our unique way of democracy. We seek an international order that will allow our working people to prosper and to maintain their political and economic independence.

And of course we seek an order where the country our people call home is physically safe and physically secure.

We are today a vast continental nation, and our middle class is large, and to enable its prosperity, we manufacture and trade–and not among ourselves only, but with others beyond our borders.

Our middle-class character makes us a commercial nation, and for that reason, a trading nation too.

And so American interests are inseparably bound up with access to other regions of the world on open and equal terms.

American security requires that this nation be free to seek out commercial partners and free to negotiate with those partners for terms favorable to all sides.

But we can only pursue those ends if no region of the world, no key area vital to us, is dominated or controlled by another power.

As Americans, we have long defined political liberty at home as freedom from domination. That is the theory of our Constitution. And that same principle should be the keystone of our foreign policy abroad.

We seek an international system that is free from hegemonic rule, free from suzerainty or control by any one state. We seek an international system where nations can make their own choices, where they can meet on a level field, where they can control their own destinies.

This has long been our ambition in the world.

When this nation was still in its infancy and our borders did not yet span the continent, the Monroe Doctrine announced our intention to prevent any foreign power from exercising dominance in our hemisphere. For this hemisphere was then the region of signal import for our security.

In the First and Second World Wars, our aims were similar. This nation took up arms in places far from home to stop imperial powers from seizing control of Europe and Asia.

And the same logic guided America’s hand through the Cold War. Across administrations, this nation pursued strategies and alliances to stop the Soviets from dominating Europe, and Asia, and ultimately, the globe.

And we succeeded.

Amid this history, of course, America pursued its own experiment with imperialism. Thankfully, the American people rejected that policy, and this nation has rightly renounced imperial ambitions.

Imperial domination violates our principles and it threatens our character. Our aim must be to prevent imperialism, not exercise it; to stop domination, not foster it.

And now we must gird ourselves for a new effort. Because new challenges await, and new dangers rise, and in the world’s most critical of regions: the Indo-Pacific.

It is here, in Asia, that the great security challenges of the twenty-first century are playing out. And it is here that any policy centered on American interests must focus.

This region, this sprawling expanse—with diverse peoples, cultures, and nations–is critical for our trade, for our jobs, and for our welfare. And today, this is the region where the menace of hegemony looms largest.

It is surely evident to everyone here that the once-free and open Indo-Pacific is increasingly less so.

In this critical region, at this critical moment, the People’s Republic of China gathers strength by the day, intervening in the affairs of its neighbors, distorting and manipulating commerce and capital to extract as much as they can, while giving as little as possible in return.

And it’s not just about trade and investment, it’s not only about programs like the Belt and Road Initiative, which seek to bend the wealth of the world to the Chinese Communist Party.

It’s far more than that. China brazenly bullies our allies and partners, aggressively militarizes rocks in the sea, and openly seeks control of the entire region.

We see this in Hong Kong, where promises are broken and violence escalates and basic liberties are restricted, or just brazenly ignored.

We see it in Taiwan, where a free people stand fast against a power bent on erasing its independent identity.

We see it even in our own corporations, like Disney and the NBA, who throw overboard free speech at the first sign of Beijing’s commercial pressure.

And when it comes to commerce, it is true that China buys our products. It is also true that they have given us a degree of market access.

But for years this growing commercial relationship with China has concealed another and inconvenient truth: Our producers and our workers are increasingly at the mercy of the Chinese Communist Party. China is building its military and economic power on the backs of our own working class.

This reality has been right in front of us, for those who cared to look. Over three million manufacturing jobs left our shores in the first dozen years of this century due to China–devastating families and gutting communities in places far from Washington.

Our workers have known for years what this city is just now beginning to discover: that the Chinese regime will first take from you and then replace you the second it gets the chance.

China’s drive for regional hegemony is a clear and present danger. At every juncture that China has grown in strength, so too has its government’s willingness to weaponize, and leverage, and project its power.

China’s bid for domination is the greatest security threat to this country in this century. And our foreign policy around the globe must be oriented to this challenge and focused principally on this threat.

Our efforts to counter jihadism, to stem the proliferation of deadly weapons, to curb rogue regimes and to protect valued partners, like Israel–these priorities are essential and remain in America’s interest.

Now we must address them in light of the challenge of China’s bid for mastery in Asia–and beyond.

For this is more than a contest between economic competitors, much more than a rivalry. This is a bid for mastery by an authoritarian and imperial state that we fundamentally cannot trust and that we fundamentally cannot ignore.

And so we must adapt and change to answer this new reality.

That means strengthening our ties with our existing allies and partners in the region, those maritime democracies who have historically kept this region open and free.

It means seeking out new partners like India who share our interests, and even old foes like Vietnam who share our needs.

It means a robust physical presence in key strategic places to sustain regional deterrence. And it means countering malign Chinese influence in other arenas–from Africa to Latin America to our colleges and universities here at home.

And, importantly, it means evaluating our current range of commitments to ensure that this challenge has the attention and resources it needs at this crucial time to succeed.

American might is not limitless, nor are the lives and treasure of the American people. Now we must make hard choices and articulate clear priorities in order to meet the challenge before us.

Let me be clear, our task is not to remake China from within. Rather, it is to deny Beijing’s ability to impose its will without, whether it be upon Hong Kong, or Taiwan, or our allies and partners–or upon us.

We cannot remake every nation in our image. But what we can do is act in a manner that reflects America’s character. By resisting the tyranny of domination by any one state in any one region, we protect our own way of life, we improve the station of our friends, and we support freedom-loving people everywhere.

I tell you today that our foreign policy can change; it must change. It is time we faced facts and addressed the world as it is. And it is time our foreign policy honored this nation’s unique history and its unique character.

Ours must be a foreign policy for the people who built this country; one that honors our workers by protecting their livelihoods; protects our way of life by thwarting hegemons; and respects our service-members by asking them to sacrifice only for a justified purpose and only with a reasonable plan.

Our purpose in the world is informed by our character at home, and by our enduring aspiration to be a free people. Our unique way of democracy is a gift–to us and to the world. Now we must rise to defend it again in our day.

By championing a free and open international system, by striving for a world free from domination and imperialism, we do our part to carry forward our revolutionary inheritance.

Our nation will be safer for it. Our people will be more prosperous for it. And the world will be better because of it.