Jessica Tuchman Mathews was President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace from 1997 until this year and is now a Distinguished Fellow there. She has served in the State Department and on the National Security Council staff in the White House.
“The incoherence in American foreign policy has been growing for twenty-five years,” asserts Ian Bremmer. That’s a considerable overstatement, and from an expert in the field, but there is no question that, at home and abroad, American policies (from long before the current administration) evoke widespread angst, uncertainty, and criticism.
The weeks ahead are of enormous consequence to US national security, not only with respect to Iran, but to our long-term ability to frame and execute a coherent foreign policy not determined solely by partisan motives.
Almost from the beginning of its history, America has struggled to find a balance in its foreign policy between narrowly promoting its own security and idealistically serving the interests of others; between, as we’ve tended to see it in shorthand, Teddy Roosevelt’s big stick and the ideals of Woodrow Wilson. Just as consistently, the US has gone through periods of embracing a leading international role for itself and times when Americans have done all they could to turn their backs on the rest of the world.
The drastic shift in priorities for every country in the Middle East occasioned by the frighteningly rapid rise of ISIS over the past several months may have made it possible to reexamine deeply buried core assumptions.
In recent weeks, Iran and the United States, for the first time, have broken through more than a decade of impasse over Iran’s nuclear program. Significant differences remain, but at long last, both governments appear ready to work their way toward a resolution. Yet the US Congress, acting reflexively against Iran, and under intense pressure from Israel, seems ready to shatter the agreement with a bill that takes no account of Iranian political developments, misunderstands proliferation realities, and ignores the dire national security consequences for the United States.