Projecting American Strength Depends on Investing in a Stronger America

In a recent op-ed, Secretary of State John Kerry wrote that "the Islamic State (or ISIS) now poses a profound and unique threat to the entire world." But apparently not profound enough to challenge us to change the way we live here at home. Our military mobilization has not been matched by the kind of call to action historically directed toward citizens during a time of war. No calls for sacrifice, saving, sharing, or strengthening our own infrastructure or people. This disconnect is neither strategic nor sustainable.

America is now bombing targets in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and Yemen in what is perhaps our most expansive military campaign since the last World War. This week Pentagon Spokesman rear Admiral John Kirby told the BBC that it will take not months but years to effectively deal with ISIS. With the threat of a global struggle so long, and as profound as Secretary Kerry described, is it possible to prevail with targeted military action on the part of our troops and nothing asked of the rest of us except to watch it on TV?

Our foreign policy and our domestic priorities ought to be linked and mutually supportive, not in separate silos. Making that compelling case is a primary responsibility of national leadership. We can't project sustained American strength abroad if our citizens themselves are not strong, and that means being fit, fed, healthy, educated, and secure. The massive financial resources that have been found to support our national security will be more effectively spent if matched by increased resources to strengthen America and Americans here at home.

At Share Our Strength our focus has been on ending an epidemic of childhood hunger by increasing participation in existing public food and nutrition programs like school breakfast and summer meals. Since the Great Recession hunger has been at record levels and taken a terrible toll on the health, happiness, and educational performance of millions of our children. That seems a world away from the tragic events in Syria and Iraq. But there is a connection between strong kids today and a strong America tomorrow.

Ending childhood hunger won't solve the problems of the world, but the values we embrace can: lifting up the dignity of every human being, investing in the next generation, sharing strength so that everyone has a role and stake in America's future.

There's no shortcut to ending the ignorance and hatred that causes so much suffering. In fact there is only the opposite, a doubling down on strategy to make real the values we represent, recommitting for the long haul, and bringing to each and every action the faith that what we do matters, and the faith that our own small acts done well inexorably make possible global transformational impact.