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A national security agenda to rebuild American leadership

The new Congress has an opportunity to lay the groundwork for the revival of American global leadership. For the past decade, Congress has overseen a depletion of our diplomatic capacity. As the State Department was squeezed under an austerity budget, money was thrown at the Pentagon, putting more on the shoulders of our military. This has left American foreign policy badly out of balance and poorly equipped to confront the challenges of a rising power competition in a changing world. Moreover, the Trump administration has created openings for our adversaries by turning the United States away from its role as a force for democracy and instead stoking nationalism and authoritarianism.

Lawmakers must rebalance American foreign policy and reinvigorate American global leadership. Doing so will require Democrats to not only fill the immense task of conducting rigorous oversight over the Trump administration, such as examining its mismanagement of the State Department and its foreign conflicts of interest, but also by presenting an affirmative vision of American foreign policy. Congress does not need to wait until 2020 to make the United States more secure and to put in place the early building blocks of a progressive foreign policy. Here are three major areas Democrats can start building out an affirmative agenda.

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First, Congress must take bold steps to defend our democracy at home and abroad. Today, democracy is strained in the United States and threatened across the globe. The spread of democracy, which for decades seemed all but inevitable, now faces setbacks, emboldening authoritarian regimes. In the case of China, much more can be done legislatively to protect American economic and national security interests. In the case of Russia, which has already interfered directly in our democratic process and continues to do so, the Trump administration and the Republican Congress did little to deter foreign interference attempts.

The best way to protect American democracy from outside interference is to deter such interference from happening in the first place. The House should push early for a sweeping election security bill to provide the necessary resources to shore up existing vulnerabilities and reassure Americans about the integrity of our election infrastructure. Because the Trump administration has failed to adequately implement sanctions against Moscow, Congress should pass new mandatory sanctions.

Second, Congress should take steps to responsibly end the forever wars and impose limits on the use of force. The House can take early steps to impose transparency, oversight, and limits on the ongoing American military engagements abroad. Doing so would send the signal that Democrats stand for responsible restraint on the use of military force.

On Yemen, Democrats should initiate legislation to end American military assistance to the Saudi Arabia coalition. They should pressure the Trump administration for a plan that ends the conflict there and addresses the worsening humanitarian crisis. On Afghanistan, along with Syria and Iraq, Democrats should take stock of our engagement in these conflicts and hold the Trump administration accountable to its strategies. The House should then debate a revised authorization for the use of military force that imposes real rather than superficial limits on the forever wars.

Third, Congress should rebuild our diplomatic capacity. Democrats need to use the power of the purse to end the era of austerity for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development. To strengthen democracy abroad in the face of growing authoritarianism and great power competition, the House should expand and prioritize foreign assistance sent to our closest democratic allies and partners.

It is also time to rebalance towards more diplomacy to solve our biggest national security challenges, backed up by a military that is oriented towards future threats. The House should undertake a systematic review of the balance of military and diplomatic resources and authorities. Democrats should stand for smarter and more sustainable defense spending coupled with a strategic surge in our diplomatic resources.

The next two years will no doubt be bumpy with a divided government, but Democrats in Congress should keep their eye on the long game. They have a tremendous opportunity to lay the foundation of an affirmative national security agenda well ahead of the important 2020 election.

Kelly Magsamen is vice president for national security and international policy with the Center for American Progress. She served at the Defense Department and on the national security staff at the White House. Max Bergmann is a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress. He served on the planning staff for the secretary of the State Department.