Today I attended the second day of the New America Foundation's  conference on Terrorism, Security, & America's Purpose . As I write this, Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, is being interviewed by CNN's Andrea Koppel. Albright is discussing today's release of the Partnership for A Secure America's Eminent Persons Group "Next Phase" Response to Terrorism. The question now being discussed is whether terrorism should be the sole focus of America's foreign policy.
Madeleine Albright, to her credit, is standing up in a way that she has not in the past. Her statements, questioning Bush's decision to recast American foreign policy on the threat of terrorism, demonstrates this growing split within the foreign policy elite, at least on the Democratic side. When the dust has settled, I predict, we will see that the Albrights and Steinbergs have split from the Bidens and Beinarts.
It may be that this conference has simply exacerbated the cracks within the Democratic foreign policy elite and that the locus of the national debate on foreign policy has shifted from the republican side to the democrats. From this early vantage point, I can see how this evolved. First, the execution of the Bush Doctrine has failed both America and the world. That failure has then driven two responses, first, a popular response. Americans are turning on this President and, after Katrina, so is the media. Second, the foreign policy establishment now has the empirical evidence of the failure of the overly theoretical neoconservative foreign policy experiment.
But where does this debate, now shifting to the Democratic side, move from here? Last night I attended an off-the-record session of a conference-related working group on American grand strategy. For me, grand strategy is the starting point. Grand strategy is really synonymous with defining "America's Purpose," the title of this conference. It's the correlation of our economic and foreign policies to our large global objectives. So the question which Albright and Steinberg are finally grappling, the same question that Biden and Beinart are avoiding, becomes the most critical for this conference. Should counterterrorism occupy the defining core of American foreign policy, or not? If not, then what should be our national purpose?
What I saw in that working group, however, tells me that this debate is off on the right foot, but far from decided. While I won't go into detail about the closed-door working group session, the group has now reported out that they believe that the struggle against terrorism should not be the defining mission for U.S. Grand Strategy. That's good; indeed, it opens a significant door. Now we can have the debate on America's purpose that we have been been lacking since the Soviet Union collapsed 15 years ago.
But that said, the grand strategy working group is still a long way off from seeing the larger geostrategic picture. Two elements make this clear. First, the group listed weak/failed states, religion, sources of terrorism, international institutions and law, alliances and strategic cooperation—as the new strategic challenges. From my perspective, this list is more a list of what traditional international relations theory has not yet integrated into its theoretical models more than a list of the top challenges facing America.
Where is energy security and economic growth in a globalized economy? With Katrina still front and center in our national consciousness, what about climate change and ecosystem security? What about the rise of China and India and the transformation of the global economy, environment and security which their rise assures? Some of these issues the group was divided upon, but many were not even mentioned.
Clearly, we have a ways to go. Charles Kupchan, chair of the group, closed by saying that there is an "urgent need to enrich public discourse" about American grand strategy. I couldn't agree more.