Politics, despite the saying, has never really stopped at the water’s edge. But these days, it seems, policymakers cannot even get to the beach before the sniping begins. The increasing polarization of American politics and the hardening of positions on issues foreign and domestic have led to deep dysfunction, as last year’s government shutdown demonstrated so dramatically. National security is by no means immune, and the chasm between Republicans and Democrats on key issues has resulted in irrational defense budgeting, unfinished trade agreements and the elevation of personal attacks over policy impacts. It’s time to do better.
The path forward is not to yearn for some halcyon days of yore when foreign policy mandarins guided the ship of state without reference to its political context. Rather, it begins by recognizing just how polarized American politics has become in recent decades and the effect that this has had on national security policymaking.