American foreign policy has always been a popular topic of discussion in Washington.
Those who are part of the so-called foreign policy “establishment” have almost always been criticized by those who are not in the “establishment” for failing to address emerging and ongoing issues in a thoughtful and meaningful way.
Establishment-types care instead, claim their naysayers, only for what the heat of a momentary crisis needs for resolution.
Daniel F. Runde’s book, “The American Imperative: Reclaiming Global Leadership Through Soft Power,” does the extraordinary by accurately describing and offering solutions to the ongoing problems surrounding the use of American foreign aid and the declining status of American leadership abroad.
The book reads seamlessly through in an autobiographical and analytical style that presents readers with case study after case study of how crises have emerged geopolitically, and how the author has played a role in dealing with these multifaceted challenges.
In the end, the American Imperative provides a clear outline of the lessons learned in Runde’s impressive career, which have successively fostered international cooperation on humanitarian issues that much of the world faces.
The author makes a strong case of how simply spending our way to leadership is an idea that never gets off the ground. Rather, Runde argues, using aid should be in the form of investment that requires attention to the particulars that differ from country to country and region to region.
Put another way, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to curtailing the growing influence of China and Russia on the world stage.
Soft power, defined as using cooperative measures instead of coercive measures to obtain foreign policy objectives, requires a nuanced touch — for which the author makes a case.
Runde pinpoints the problems that surround China’s notorious Belt and Road Initiative, the plan to make China emerge as a global leader though bilateral assistance programs to developing nations.
In undertaking the Belt and Road Initiative, China primarily focuses on filling gaps where American investment is lacking or on simply beating out the U.S. entirely.
The problem comes to the attention of the United States when we see that other countries have little or no interest in developing their countries in ways that foster true, long-term prosperity and self-sufficiency. China’s materialistic foreign policy is concerned with getting what it wants from other countries regardless of the outcome for their partners.
Runde notes that this is particularly critical when the U.S. fails to meet China in providing support in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere. If we do nothing, we ultimately cede ground to China and undermine our own influence in those regions.
Runde writes that the ultimate purpose of aid is to better assist countries to become self-reliant and contributors to the world economy and community. This inevitably promotes free-market democratic principles and lasting allies, as opposed to removing foreign aid which only aides the rise of China and Russia.
The only true bulwark against China and Russia, the author concludes, comes from helping other countries to resist the temptation to take handouts from Beijing and Moscow to build roads and ports. The money developing countries receive from China and Russia is marginally beneficial, but it still fails to address the problems that developing countries face in an interconnected world economy.
This is not to say that the current system we have for conducting foreign policy is flawless.
Runde points out that the Foreign Assistance Act, the landmark law that governs U.S. foreign aid, has not been updated since 1985.
We live in an entirely new world that is faced with the growth of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes that operate far differently than the defunct Soviet Union.
However, the imperative for harnessing soft power, as his title indicates, has not changed nor should it.
The U.S. has allowed developing governments to purchase subpar technology from Russia and China due to their budgetary realities.
The fundamental goal of foreign aid, understated for quite some time, is to transform foreign countries into partners that will work with the U.S. out of an enlightened self-interest.
Yesteryear’s recipients of aid are today, as Runde makes the case, our strongest economic partners. Foreign aid is not an idealistic panacea that cures all ailments in developing nations. However, it can be used to help foster economic growth and activity that can be used for mutual improvement amongst U.S. partner nations.
The author remains optimistic in his assessment of the world of tomorrow and that we can use the same approach to rescuing countries that are in dire straits as we did in developing and executing the Marshall Plan nearly a century ago.
The critical need to help countries move away from China and Russia is inarguably vital to U.S. security, as we enter into the remaining stages of the 21st century.
The “American Imperative” takes the meritorious approach of looking at what has worked in conducting U.S. foreign policy in the past and then making the case for modernizing our capabilities to secure realistic solutions for today. The succinctness and depth in its argumentation make this book a must-read for those who analyze foreign policy issues, trends, and ideas that will be at the forefront of American foreign policy for decades to come.
Michael Cozzi is a Ph.D. candidate at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Review originally posted on Newsmax.com on January 25, 2023.