A New National Narrative


At a time when America’s economy and education systems are lagging, a new narrative is needed to help America understand its place in the twenty-first century, according to a new report by Captain Porter and Colonel Mykleby, writing under the pseudonym Mr. Y (a reference to the famous X article by George Kennan article which reframed foreign policy in 1947). It involves a common vision towards global engagement centered on investing in U.S. resources in education and other sectors.

“In one sentence, the strategic narrative of the United States in the 21st century is that we want to become the strongest competitor and most influential player in a deeply inter-connected global system,” Professor Slaughter writes in the preface, “which requires that we invest less in defense and more in sustainable prosperity and the tools of effective global engagement.”

She goes on to outline the five major transitions in the global system that this report entitled, A National Strategic Narrative, serves as a response to:

  1. The twenty-first century is an open system, which the U.S. cannot control. Instead of trying to control world events, the U.S. must build capital and then use it to shape events.
  2. We can no longer contain others like China. Instead, we must focus internally on sustaining ourselves, and engaging with others only after weighing the costs and benefits and engaging with partners. This includes investing domestically on resources that can be useful to our future, including the education of our youth.
  3. With a soaring deficit, we must cut back on the defense budget and invest in civilian engagement. The authors advocate utilizing all domestic and foreign policy tools and embracing competition with – rather than isolation from – others. Competing “means a new narrative on trade and a new willingness to invest in the skills, education, energy sources, and infrastructure necessary to make our products competitive.”
  4. The fourth transition is to positive sum politics. The authors cite the example of China’s rise to economic power and the positive repercussions it has had on the economy of the United States as well as the stability of East Asia. (For more on the positive effects of Chinese investment in the U.S. economy, see the new report by Asia Society, An American Open Door? Maximizing the Benefits of Chinese Foreign Direct Investment.
  5. Finally, the report calls for a move away from the term “national security” a term which justifies the ever increasing spending on defense, toward the term “national prosperity and security.” The report argues that our prosperity leads to our security as much as or more than, our military might.

What does this mean for education policy in this country? The report repeatedly cites the need to invest in the education of our youth to embrace the rise of other countries and work with them as partners for our joint benefit and security. This is one of the main keys to the continued prosperity of the United States. Educating our children to be globally competent means doing just that—preparing the next generation to be civilians prepared to deal with the external influences of an interconnected world and to engage with others around the world.

Mr. Y is a pseudonym for CAPT Wayne Porter, USN and Col Mark "Puck" Mykleby, USMC who are active-duty military officers.

Authored by Heather Singmaster.

Discussion Questions:

What do you think about Mr. Y’s article – should we move toward a policy of engagement rather than continue to increase spending on money for defense through our military?

What does this mean for education? Does the United States currently invest enough in the next generation?