In my write-up of Mitch Daniels’ book on the main site, I note that foreign policy is a big reason some conservatives who are clamoring for Chris Christie to get into the race are put off by Daniels. It is therefore interesting to see the nuanced line Christie took in his Reagan Library speech about American exceptionalism.
The United States must also become more discriminating in what we try to accomplish abroad. We certainly cannot force others to adopt our principles through coercion. Local realities count; we cannot have forced makeovers of other societies in our image. We need to limit ourselves overseas to what is in our national interest so that we can rebuild the foundations of American power here at home – foundations that need to be rebuilt in part so that we can sustain a leadership role in the world for decades to come.
That sounds an awful lot like Daniels. But Christie makes explicit that he thinks a strong national defense and American world leadership are important.
The argument for getting our own house in order is not an argument for turning our back on the world.
We cannot and should not do that. First of all, our economy is dependent on what we export and import. And as we learned the hard way a decade ago, we as a country and a people are vulnerable to terrorists armed with box cutters, bombs, and viruses, be they computer generated or man-made. We need to remain vigilant, and be prepared to act with our friends and allies, to discourage, deter or defend against traditional aggression; to stop the spread of nuclear materials and weapons and the means to deliver them; and to continue to deprive terrorists of the ways, means and opportunity to succeed.
But Christie also stresses the power of American example, and says we cannot lead without getting our own house in order.
You see, without strong leadership at home-without our domestic house in order-we are taking ourselves out of the equation. Over and over, we are allowing the rest of the world to set the tone without American influence.
I understand full well that succeeding at home, setting an example, is not enough. The United States must be prepared to act. We must be prepared to lead. This takes resources-resources for defense, for intelligence, for homeland security, for diplomacy. The United States will only be able to sustain a leadership position around the world if the resources are there-but the necessary resources will only be there if the foundations of the American economy are healthy. So our economic health is a national security issue as well.
We’ll see if Christie makes these arguments more effectively than Daniels or Jon Huntsman. Like Haley Barbour, he certainly has the standing to do so.