Biden’s infrastructure proposal is good for America’s national security too
Most of the commentary about President Biden’s recently announced infrastructure-funding proposal has focused on its domestic political implications and the challenges to its passage. But Biden’s infrastructure proposal is not just about domestic policy — it is also important for American foreign policy and national security.
Let’s start with China, which many view as the largest threat to U.S. interests and values. China’s rise as a global power stems from its leadership’s strategic patience and sustained effort to strengthen its economy, including the national infrastructure that supports it. During the decades of China’s rise, the U.S., in contrast, did little to deal with its aging national infrastructure, eschewed social policies that promote successful families, became increasingly politically polarized, was hammered by the self-inflicted 2008 financial crisis, spent over $6 trillion on the Afghan and Iraq conflicts, and responded ineptly to the COVID-19 pandemic. So while China was steady and strategic, the U.S. was anything but.
Biden is changing that script.
His infrastructure proposal demonstrates that he understands America’s policy towards China and other would-be competitors must be rooted in competence at home in addressing the foundations of national strength, chiefly the national economy and the well being of the American people. He is also signaling China and the world that America is stepping up its game and intends to remain competitive, economically and otherwise, over the long-term.
Biden’s proposals address traditional forms of infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, as well as social infrastructure, which is equally important to American success and strength. Biden targets America’s decaying transportation infrastructure, which has been a drag on the economy, with proposed investments in roads, bridges, rail, and rapid transit. He also tackles complementary problems by proposing investments in R&D and manufacturing, in addressing America’s internet shortcomings, another drag on the economy, particularly in rural areas, and in workforce development, to help workers deal with globalization and changing technologies.
Social policies that support the success of families are as fundamental to long-term national economic strength as roads and ports. Family-supportive social policies, such as affordable health care, daycare for children, education, and eldercare, are therefore another form of national infrastructure. Virtually all other developed countries have invested in their national social infrastructure; the U.S. has not in recent decades, and the strain of daily life on average families is fraying America’s social fabric. This, too, is a drag on the economy and a harbinger of other problems, such as an inadequate public health system, widespread substance abuse and declining lifespan, which can sap a nation’s strength.
Biden’s proposal makes a down payment on America’s social infrastructure and complements steps he has already taken on health care.
The largest proposed social infrastructure investment — $400 billion — will be in home- and community-based care for the elderly, which will help families, not just individuals. Smaller investments in affordable housing and education round out this portion of the Biden social infrastructure support proposal.
Climate change is the most certain, serious, and durable threat to U.S. national security and the well being of the American people — greater in the long run than any plausible threat from China.
Climate change is already evident in rising sea levels, changing rain patterns, rising temperatures, and more intense droughts — and concomitant climate-driven migration. But climate change challenges will grow significantly in the future and have centuries-long cascading impacts on the U.S. homeland and the global community.
Biden’s infrastructure proposal demonstrates the U.S. will match its policy statements on climate change with actions to address it. The proposed investments in transit, rail, electric vehicles, and electrical infrastructure will help reduce reliance on fossil fuels, consistent with U.S. Paris Agreement pledges and Biden’s goal of the U.S. being net zero for carbon emissions by 2050.
While it may not yet be fully evident, the U.S. faces a reckoning. The country’s future security and prosperity are being jeopardized by challenges at home and abroad that are not susceptible to March Madness-like “buzzer beater” quick fixes. Leaders in Washington and citizens around the country need to recognize that long-term challenges to America’s security, such as China and climate change, require consistent, long-term efforts to address them, beginning by attending to the foundations of the country’s strength at home.
Biden’s infrastructure proposals are a step in the right direction, in this regard. The Administration and congressional Republicans should engage on the proposals and the reality underlying them as if America’s future, at home and abroad, depends on it — because it does.
Kenneth C. Brill is a retired career Foreign Service Officer who served as U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA in the George W. Bush administration and as a senior intelligence official in the Obama Administration. He also served as Acting Assistant Secretary for State’s OES Bureau at the end of the Clinton administration and the beginning of the Bush administration. He was founding director of the U.S. National Counterproliferation Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (2005-2009). He was involved in international environmental issues and negotiations in both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.