Foreign Policy Isn’t Optional

Foreign Policy Isn’t Optional

Speaking today at a discussion hosted by the New America Foundation, former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband put his thumb on a sensitive issue for Washington. Much as their leaders might secretly wish it, the West’s governments can’t simply take a decade off of foreign policy to focus on rebuilding at home. “You’ve got to do the internal and the external at the same time,” he said.

Yet that kind of multitasking is precisely what has eluded President Barack Obama as he and his administration struggle to put out the fiscal fires started by House Republicans. Perhaps the most prominent casualty has been U.S. trade policy, with the president’s abandoned trip to Asia a glaring missed opportunity to push ahead the vital Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. Instead of a pivot to Asia, commented Eurasia Group’s Sean West, “Apparently, we’re pivoting to ourselves.”

Even prior to the government shutdown, sequestration was cutting into the United States’ ability to push its trade agenda. The across-the-board budget cuts were forcing the U.S. trade representative to think twice about sending negotiators abroad. As Michael Froman, the head of the trade office, said this summer, “We are in a situation where we’ve having to choose: Can we send people to a negotiation?” Now Froman doesn’t even have to ask, since the answer is an automatic “no.” Last week, the shutdown forced him to cancel talks with the European Union over the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership because the U.S. could not pay for travel to Brussels.

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