Top Clinton adviser: 4 things U.S. must do to improve foreign policy

Posted October 12, 2017

  • U.S. experience as "occupying authority" suggests strategy must change, Sullivan says 

Senior policy adviser to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidential election, Jake Sullivan said there are four things the United States needs to do to shape a more effective and sustainable foreign policy.

The UCD Clinton Institute invited Sullivan to speak on “U.S. Foreign Policy at a Populist Moment.” He was considered a top candidate to become national security adviser in a Clinton presidency before Donald Trump’s victory.

“The fact is we’ve made mistakes, the world is changing, there are new voices and new powers arising on the international stage,” Sullivan said. “The shape and scope of power and the shape and scope of the challenges in the world are so much different today than they were 25 or 30 years ago.”

“We need to step up and recognise that American foreign policy and America’s leadership role, if we seek to sustain it and carry it forward, will have to be different from how it was before.”

1. Elevate foreign economic policy within U.S. foreign policy

The United States and every advanced country all had to face up to the question: “How do you sustain an economy that works for everyone?”

Sullivan said this question needed to be a priority “in conversations around the Situation Room table, not just conversations among the President’s economic advisers.”

This was the paramount problem that confronted the United States “in the face of technology, automation and so many other factors that are hollowing out the kind of economy that we have become used to in the West and other parts of the world.”

“If I take one thing away from my two years on the road with Hillary Clinton, this is it. This is not just a domestic economic problem - this has to be central to our national security strategy as well.”

2. Do a better job at sharing the burden of global problem solving

The United States “had to think about a more collaborative style to international leadership and problem solving,” Sullivan said. Historically, the U.S. was the country to put the most resources behind the big challenges that faced the world. “That is changing dramatically. And quickly.”

“America’s leadership role should no longer be focused on the question of how do we absorb the costs of global problem solving but rather how do we help in the process of allocating costs effectively to all the actors who have something to contribute.”

Sullivan said he did not believe the Paris Climate Agreement would have happened if the United States “wasn’t driving the agenda and other countries including the European Union, China, Japan and India weren’t engaged and respected and playing central roles as well.”

“That can be a model going forward, in my view, to more effectively deal with [issues] rather than the United States just looking at every problem and saying “we’re going to come and solve it and maybe drag a few other folks along with us.”

3. Deal more effectively with the question of how U.S. should use its military power

The United States had learned a “couple of things” from its recent foreign policy history, Sullivan said. One of those was based on the U.S. experience as an “occupying authority” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Both times, I think, the results have suggested that this is not a good way going forward,” Sullivan said.

The second thing the U.S. had learned was that it had to figure out how to “rebalance the roles of force and diplomacy in our foreign policy.”

A fraction of available resources was spent on diplomatic efforts compared to the military, and there was a tendency “to think of our diplomatic efforts as being the thing that follows the use of our military rather than the military being something that can be used as leverage to push forward our diplomatic efforts.”

In Washington, Sullivan said he feared the military budget was being raised while “the budget for diplomacy and development was on the chopping block and I think this was the wrong way to think about our priorities going forward”

4. Put values back at the heart of U.S. foreign policy

Americans saw the promotion of its values as a “central part of our overall foreign policy mission.” They were a generous but practical people who wanted U.S. efforts to produce real results.

Too often they had heard the “invocation of values”, Sullivan said, only to feel like they hadn’t “produced positive results either for us or for the countries in which we’re engaged.”

The United States should look to the crises around the world and “apply our efforts there alongside our partners.” Ireland and the U.S. could work together on famine relief, global hunger and food security to “reconnect people to a larger mission than just the pure, naked selfish interest.”

Jake Sullivan joined Hillary Clinton during her 2008 Presidential Campaign and became her deputy chief of staff. He was also Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State.

Following Clinton’s unsuccessful 2008 campaign, he joined Vice President Joe Biden as his top national security adviser during the Barack Obama administration.

He was chosen by Obama to be part of a delegation that met with Iranian diplomats in efforts to broker a historic nuclear deal that was eventually announced in 2013.

Sullivan is currently Marin R. Flug Visiting Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School. He was speaking at the Royal Irish Academy.

By: Jonny Baxter, digital journalist, UCD University Relations