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Taking it Online: Review Rather Than Restore America's Standing in the World

February 1, 2021 ~


Few U.S. Presidents have come into office with as extensive and recognized public service experience as that of President Biden. Even more notable is the diversity of the Biden-Harris Administration and the number of “firsts” in presidential nominations. The depth and level of experience these nominees have is impressive, and even under ordinary circumstances, the challenges are daunting for any Administration. Under these extra-ordinary circumstances, the challenges are deeply existential. Take the new Administration’s immediate policy priorities, released shortly after the inauguration of the President and Vice President. Policy priorities tend to be bold but should not come as a surprise given the platform on which the Biden-Harris team campaigned and the quickly evolving global crises.


In this anniversary post of my Taking it Online blog, I share my reaction to the Biden-Harris Administration’s immediate policy priority to Restore America’s Standing in the World. When so much structural and foundational problems exist in the United States, it is clear to me that this is not the best approach to take, urging Review rather than Restore. Considering the focus areas under this policy priority, there are potential opportunities for review, assessment and evaluation.


· Strengthening “the” U.S. national security workforce is not possible without first reviewing and assessing the data and evidence as to where the workforces’ existing strengths and weaknesses lie. This is especially key when the national security workforce is not neatly housed under one agency and requires an update on skills and expertise.

· Rebuilding democratic alliances across the globe will be extremely challenging unless the new Administration better grasps how these global relationships have evolved over the past four years. Building better may mean not going back.

· Championing America’s values and human rights will surely sound hypocritical when the United States government has not upheld these same values and rights consistently in the past few years. The emphasis may be placed on the evolution of democratic institutions and efforts toward a more “perfect” union.

· Equipping the American middle class to succeed in a global economy is a very worthy endeavor, but there must first be acknowledgement that the middle class is not a cohesive group. Equipping, in my view, involves both education and training and align this with addressing inequities in the economy and providing economic relief.


The last bullet and focus area draws me back to the immediate “domestic” policy priorities to 1) control COVID-19 pandemic, 2) provide economic relief, 3) tackle climate change, 4) advance racial equity and civil rights, 5) reform U.S. immigration system and 6) protect and expand healthcare. As I see it, if the Biden-Harris Administration can achieve success on these priorities, we will have made great progress to Restoring America’s Standing in the World. It will be up to the new leadership in the National Security Council, Departments of State and Defense and many others to closely coordinate and to propose a roadmap for how the U.S. government plans to operationalize efforts to achieve these priorities. Policy coherence is critical and needed now more than ever. Additionally, the White House-issued January 27 Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking to the heads of executive departments and agencies is very encouraging. This must be applied to areas of national security, including in foreign policy, and I refer to my first blog a year ago on Foreign Policy from a Public Policy Perspective, when I had stated then that “Determining the right measures and what the thresholds are for success and failure are an integral part of the policy process, and foreign policy should be held to similar if not the same principles of accountability and transparency as other policy domains.”


Looking ahead, the President’s State of the Union speech is typically delivered in January or February, a defining and highly anticipated event that serves as an opportunity for the President to present the American public with the Administration’s policy priorities. Shortly after the SOTU, the President is expected to put forward his budget. Something to watch out for in the next few weeks is how these policy priorities will align with the budget request. Does the Administration’s policy priorities match up with the President’s Budget? Indeed, these are highly complex matters and will take time and quite likely the full 4-year term of this Administration if not longer. For many of us outside the formal policymaking process, it is not too far removed for us to ask and insist on What does restoring America’s standing in the world mean? In what ways can success be defined? Might there be ways to improve America’s standing while improving the standing of other countries as well?


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