How much did U.S. foreign policy change after the last election and how much will it change after this one?

The presidential elections in the US always set a paradigm shift in the perception and execution of the nations’ foreign policy, and the entrenched differences between the democrat and the republican visions of politics leave an apparent print in the elaboration of legislations and decisions pertinent to the US foreign policies.

The last election, which outcome elevated the first African-American democrat to the presidential office, is one of the instances where the changes pursued between two different administrations in state foreign policy are widely acknowledged. The Bush administration, with a strong neo-conservative approach to politics, advocated a staunch and aggressive foreign policy which prioritized national interests over the communal and comprehensive welfare of the international community. The unilateral decisions, sanctions and military interventions operated outside of the UN mandate and which bore consequences with global reach draw world reluctance and disagreement with US actions, skyrocketing thus the levels of animosity towards the US in the European and Muslim world especially to unprecedented levels between 2001 and 2008[1]. This key feature of the Bush vision for world politics driven by confrontation and aggressive defense of interests abroad was widely overturned by the Obama administration.

The transition from a period of declared warfare which engaged the US in multiple combats notably the Iraqi and Afghani interventions, to a period of active diplomacy and termination of conflicts has made the switch of administrations have a blatant impact on the foreign policy of the US.

The major characteristics which shaped US and World politics between 2001 and 2008 are the wars led by the Bush administration, making the sole focal point of decision makers of a political and military nature. The clumsy approach to the economic aspect of foreign policy though has been given less importance in the precedent administration, and this neglect has been catastrophic in turn, leading to a global crisis which untreated underpinnings still have a major bearing on the current financial downturns in world markets[2]. The efforts channeled towards pursuing foreign interests shifted attention from domestic financial affairs, and the logical outcome was an economy drained by both military ventures and lack of innovative legislations to sustain American economic competitiveness and strength. A shaking US economy and a war-driven increase in oil prices made it inevitable for world economy to sink in an already started crisis in the corridors of Wall Street.

During a presidential period, accumulating successes and achievements is the driving force of policy making, and the intent of the former republican administration to aggregate attainments was primary focused on short term investments meant at domestic consumption. The arrogant foreign policy of the Bush administration was overturning the interests of the US allies, putting some at risk and others at deep embarrassments with their populace with the sole motivation of asserting US force and integrity which has been shattered by the 9/11 attacks. The most powerful nation, with its most negative attributes related time and again in novels and romans, was ultimately depicted by the United States of America.

The year of 2008 was a cornerstone in world politics, with deep impact on US domestic and foreign policy. The global crisis shifted the attention of law makers towards the financial welfare of the state instead of its political and diplomatic assets abroad. The financial downturn, coupled with the continuous rise of the Asian nations, turned US economic competitiveness into a major issue for the presidential cabinet. This shift in diplomacy from securing political and military alliances towards engaging in economic partnerships is clearly depicted in Obama’s National Security Strategy:

“Our strategy starts by recognizing that our strength and influence abroad begins with the steps we take at home. We must grow our economy and reduce our deficit”[3]

This is a logical policy enterprise as the economic performances of a nation are the sole leverage for securing and pursuing interests abroad, funding military ventures and implementing institutions and establishments meant to advance the political, financial, cultural and religious affiliates of the nation ideological stances.

This economy oriented strategy is likely to determine the future of the American politics post 2012. The European debt crisis and the expansion of Chinese and Indian economies is challenging the financial capabilities of the US, and regaining economic partnership, or slowing American financial fall in front of “the rise of the rest”, will set the pace for US foreign policy in the next decades. The quality of the presidential republican contender hints to the nature of policies he will prioritize: Mitt Romney is a renowned businessman with deep insights in the corporate world. With such a presidential nominee, the republicans want to assert to the public that economy rehabilitation and revitalization will make it to the top priorities in the presidents’ agenda.

What is worth noting is that, in a world where the rise of rest becomes more apparent than ever, the threats towards American monopoly are evident and effective. As Fareed Zakaria advances in his “Post-American world” masterpiece:
At the politico-military level, we remain in a single superpower world. But in every other dimension – industrial, financial, educational, social, cultural – the distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance.”[4]

What confirms the emergence of an economy oriented US foreign policy is the actual state of world politics. The entrenched ideological differences between communism and capitalism, and which have been fueling world politics and foreign policies for much of the 2nd half of the 20th century, are now fading in favor of a strong partnership between ideologically opposed nations. The US is now engaging Beijing in all levels, implementing treaties and pacts in the fields of diplomacy, culture and finance. With the recurrent high profile visits to China, US chief foreign policy makers send string signals that the China of Human Rights abuses and political totalitarianism is becoming less important than the China of investments, unprecedented economic growth and large exports scores.

Whether it is President Obama or Mitt Romney, the challenges which highlighted the 2001- 2012 are now steadily overturned: The World is emerging stronger than ever from the Global crisis, with a broader union and conglomeration into global financial establishments and legislations, and with an Al Qaeda leadership shattered to pieces after high profile assassinations, the world security and peace are less prone to disturbances and large scale terrorist operations. The post 2012 challenges are different and require a new approach and strategy: How to stay competitive in world markets in front of Chinese manufactured goods and Indian cheap services?

This is what pushes the foreign policy agenda of the next president to be consumed mainly by Asia-Pacific top priorities, and continuous focus on engaging in trade partnerships, opening new markets and facilitating the emergence of new liberal governments in the Asian continents will ultimately become recurrent news in the next 4 years presidential mandate. In a world where top players are not necessarily its biggest military forces, the diplomatic ties are likely to be strengthened with economic pioneers, and the US-BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South-Africa) relations will indeed shape the world diplomacy and politics, following the prophetic theory of Karl Marx who asserted in his “economic determinism” that human history and global political structures are determined by the course of its economic status.

By Mohamed Amine Belarbi

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