Commentators in recent years have been telling us that Americans are turning inward, showing little interest in affairs overseas. They cite polls indicating that, after over 10 years of wars, most people would rather focus on nation-building here at home.
And so, as the logic goes, American policymakers -- and candidates -- should respond in kind, tailoring their messages to fit a people tired of foreign engagement and indifferent to America's role and responsibilities in today's world.
I reject that premise.
Americans are conscientious citizens, open to be persuaded otherwise. What they want is leadership -- leaders who are honest with them on what it means for America to continue to lead and embrace the world in a responsible manner.
They are, in other words, not opposed to an active foreign policy, but want their leaders to justify it - if it is in our interest. They look to their elected officials for a narrative, a framework of principles: why the world matters to us here at home.
I spent much of my four decades in public service as a naval officer, often overseas. I saw how events far from Pennsylvania impacted our lives here. I learned how other countries' policies - and how they competed in a global economy - mattered to our security and prosperity.
We need to remain engaged with the world not because we are hungry for needless adventures - but because, in this globalized world, our safety, our jobs, and our future prosperity depend on it.
President Obama's trip to Asia is a perfect case in point.
The President will be arriving in Beijing in a few days to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (APEC), a gathering of leaders from 21 Pacific Rim countries to promote trade and build stronger relations among some of the world's fastest growing and most vibrant economies.
As the leader of the most respected nation in the Pacific Rim, President Obama will encounter in Asia some of the most promising economic opportunities and some of the most vexing security challenges for the United States in the coming decades.
We must be out there, batting every day for our own interests.
To start, Asia has six of the world's top 20 economies. The region will soon have over half of the world's middle class, buying $10 trillion worth of outside goods. As their wages rise, many will want our brand -- "made with quality in the USA." Given that every $1 billion of exports support about 5,000 American jobs, Asia must be a key part of our country's goal to shore up our working families here at home.
And yet, we can only maintain prosperity when all nations follow the rules. As China becomes more influential in the region, our friends and partners in Asia are expecting us to help them enforce the terms on which responsible nations should behave.
For the sake of American security and prosperity, Washington must take the lead to ensure that China operates within a global, rules-based system.
We must stop China from stealing our intellectual property. China's actions have cost us hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs. We need to enforce global rules -- and bring unwavering pressure -- to stop China's theft of our inventions and ideas.
We must push for strong commercial, labor and environmental standards. If China continues to give generous subsidies to its own inefficient state-owned companies, refuses to enforce its labor laws, or allows factories to keep polluting, then China is essentially boosting its own companies by making it cheaper to do business there - putting American workers, including many here in Pennsylvania, at a disadvantage.
We must stop China from intimidating its neighbors and unilaterally claiming ownership of international waters -- such as in the South China Sea -- in its drive to obtain energy and mineral resources. China must also be transparent with its rapid military build-up. If these issues go unaddressed, regional countries will intensify their own arms build-up, destabilizing this key region of American interests.
Asia, to be sure, is only one example.
The United States is a global power with global interests. Our future will depend on how successful we are in shaping a more stable world, from pushing back ISIS in Iraq to checking an aggressive Russia, from nurturing peace in the Middle East to containing the spread of Ebola.
Instead of fanning the flames of isolationism, we need leaders who can write a smart national security strategy, one that effectively responds to security threats and embraces new economic opportunities so we can win in Asia and around the world.