Michael P. Noonan is the Director of the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Between North Korean saber rattling; continued unease over the level of threat posed by Tehran; an unsettled situation in Syria; the fact that American men and women remain in harm's way in Afghanistan while fighting season there is still warming up; and a continued budgetary mess and political stalemate in Washington, D.C., it is easy to feel very uneasy about world events.
In fact, if one is not paid to think about such issues, it may even seem somewhat understandable to turn on, say, TMZ, rather than the evening news. Of course, such ostrich-like behavior, in the end, can do only so much.
In a perfect world, the American people would have a national debate about what role they would like to see the United States play in world affairs. Various courses of action would be put forward with varying price tags, along with a serious discussion of risks. Second- and third-order consequences and effects for each of these varying positions would be outlined and evaluated. When the decision was made, implementation would begin and the political process would allow for changes in policies and capabilities to coincide with such change.
Perhaps this is too much to ask for and perhaps it is too idealized, but it doesn't give the national political leadership—Republican and Democrat, legislative and executive—an excuse for the current vacuum of leadership and zero-sum negotiating. No doubt there are many serious issues affecting the United States now and in the future, but no single decision made today will ensure a resolution of all of our national problems down the road.
Elevating every single political difference between the White House and Congress to the level of a "critical issue" does no one any good. There is too much happening right now that could potentially have too much lasting global political effect to allow ourselves to be hunkered down in domestic political stalemate.
Real problems demand real solutions, yet few of those solutions will be seen as perfect by either partisans of the left or right. The gravity of today's geopolitical reality demands some political compromise. Without such compromise, our inaction may spur on the action of others.