After close to eight years during which the relationship
between the United States and much of the international community has been dominated
by tensions over foreign policy, many wonder what a new administration will
hold. Some hope there will be a new U.S. approach to the rest of the world – especially
to the Middle East – that will be a dramatic foreign policy U-turn. Others
hope for a president who maintains similar versions of current policies.
It is powerfully tempting to try to predict U.S. foreign policy under this
or that president by means of deconstructing his or her statements and campaign
speeches; in election months, such predictions flow nonstop from the news media
and pundits. But such an exercise is likely to produce misleading, unreliable
conclusions, and a look at history and the candidates' backgrounds suggests
that predicting future policy is anything but clear-cut.
For example, in their reelection campaigns, both Woodrow Wilson and Franklin
Delano Roosevelt said they wanted to keep the United States out of World War
I and World War II, respectively. However, both Democrats later led the country
into direct military involvement. It is also illuminating to remember not only
Richard Nixon's opening to China and his policy of détente with the Soviet
Union and Ronald Reagan's historic nuclear arms control agreement with Moscow,
but also that both presidents ran on staunch anticommunist platforms.
More recently, recall the way presidential candidate Bill Clinton bashed then-President
George H.W. Bush for "coddling" the "tyrants" in Beijing
and then, after he won office, promoted a normalized trade relationship with
China and its accession to the World Trade Organization. Nor should one overlook
the fact that during a televised debate with Al Gore, presidential candidate
George W. Bush scoffed at the notion that "nation-building" should
be an integral part of U.S. foreign policy.
Clearly, throughout history and across the political spectrum, presidents have
frequently acted contrary to the attitudes they expressed on the campaign trail.
Yet this has not been a particularly big deal; voters recognize that the president
has to react to unpredictable global situations as they arise. As an indicator
of future policy, it is clear that campaign promises are a truly faulty measure.
Though policy is poorly predicted by what is said on the stump, a close look
at the candidates' basic foreign policy approaches can provide insights. In
his influential book Special
Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World, historian
Walter Russell Mead distinguishes between four schools of U.S. foreign policy:
Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian, Jacksonian, and Wilsonian. Under this rubric, Hamiltonians
view foreign policy as a tool to improve the U.S. marketplace; Jeffersonians
are "nationalists" who revere homegrown democratic institutions and
prioritize domestic policy above others; Jacksonians are also nationalistic
but do not fear becoming militarily engaged in order to promote U.S. interests
abroad; Wilsonians also believe in international military engagements, but for
pursuit of purposes broader than U.S. interests alone. By applying this typology
to the current candidates, one might better understand the direction U.S. foreign
policy could take.
The views of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) seem to correspond to a sub-genre of
the diplomatic, internationalist Wilsonian perspective that is more dovish than
the hawkish Wilsonian approach promoted by the neoconservatives. What would
this sort of Wilsonian at the helm spell for U.S. policy? Not unlike former
President Jimmy Carter, Obama seems primed to use U.S. diplomatic and economic
power to expand cooperation among members of the international community through
the influence of interdependency and the force of globalization. A Wilsonian
like Obama might use limited military power to prevent genocide, for example,
but not to promote broad strategic and economic U.S. interests. In the context
of the Middle East, a Carter/Obama type of Wilsonian approach would probably
predispose one to embracing and implementing the recommendations of the Iraq
Study Group, which in addition to bringing Syria, Iran, and other regional players
into the negotiations on the future of Iraq, could lead to a new emphasis on
resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. An Obama-style Wilsonian would be likely
to reach out to Iran through international venues to resolve the nuclear situation.
On the other hand, forecasting an Obama foreign policy is complicated by his
less-than-extensive policy record and fears that he has generated among some
supporters of Israel. These concerns have been driven in part by the views of
some of his advisers, including Zbigniew Brzezinski and former Clinton administration
Middle East aide Robert Malley, who have occasionally criticized Israeli policies.
Obama is also viewed – unlike Hillary Clinton – as an unknown quantity
when it comes to Israel. Thus, while he might seem predisposed to reassess some
aspects of U.S.-Israel relations, Obama may go out of his way to allay the concerns
of the pro-Israel lobby once in office, which could have a significant impact
on his overall Mideast agenda.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has made semi-Wilsonian speeches along the presidential
campaign trail. Yet his views correspond more closely to Mead's Hamiltonian
school of thought, which favors an activist U.S. foreign policy that makes the
world safe not necessarily for democracy, but for U.S. geo-economic interests.
Hamiltonians see the United States integrated in the global system in favorable
terms through multilateral institutions like the United Nations and the World
Bank, through free-trade accords, and through balance of power strategy that
helps maintain U.S. status. A Hamiltonian would want to ensure that any exit
from Iraq would not harm U.S. access to the oil resources in the Persian Gulf
or weaken U.S. position vis-à-vis other great powers. And a Hamiltonian
would wonder why Iran wants nuclear energy, when it has vast oil reserves.
It is also important to remember that McCain was never a full-fledged member
of the neoconservative movement, though his comments sometimes are neoconservative.
Alongside campaign advisers like Robert
Kagan, McCain has also employed several leading members of the Realpolitik
wing of the Republican party, including Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, Brent
Scowcroft, and Henry Kissinger, all of whom have been either opposed to or skeptical
about the decision to invade Iraq. They have also, like Brzezinski, been more
supportive of the United States pressing Israel to make concessions as part
of a U.S.-led Mideast peace process. Thus, while many neoconservatives are concerned
that Obama would turn into another Carter, they should also consider the prospect
of McCain emerging as another realist-inclined leader in the mold of George
Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has what could perhaps be called a combined approach
under Mead's system, hewing to a mixed Wilsonian-Hamiltonian mind-set.
Such an approach is fundamentally internationalist at its core. A leader hewing
to this approach could be expected to engage more thoroughly on all international
fronts, especially in the promotion of democracy. Under a Wilsonian-Hamiltonian,
Middle East negotiations would likely come to the foreground. Yet it would not
be unexpected for the United States to remain broadly militarily engaged under
such a perspective. A Hamiltonian would not hesitate to confront Iran militarily
in order to protect U.S. security, but if tempered with the Wilsonian perspective
that wants to do what's best for the global community, a direct confrontation
is less likely. Not unlike the first President Clinton, one should not expect
major or dramatic foreign policy changes under a second President Clinton: A
withdrawal from Iraq, a dialogue with Iran, or a re-energizing of the Israel-Palestine
peace process would only take place if and when Senator Clinton concludes that
she has been able to secure the support of the bureaucracy, Congress, and the
powerful interest groups for such moves. This suggests that she would probably
embrace a gradual foreign policy process in general, and in the Middle East
Obama could prove to also be more hesitant in dealing with the Middle East
as he responds to political pressure in Washington, or paradoxically, he could
be more inclined to move in a dramatic way if he concludes that, as a "transformational
president," he could take more risks in dealing with the Middle East.
McCain could also deliver surprises. The perception of McCain as a tough "hawk"
could provide him with the political cover he would need to, say, open a dialogue
with Iran á la Nixon-goes-to-China, to start withdrawing from Iraq, or
to pressure Israel to make concessions for peace.
Ultimately, even though a nuanced view of the candidates' approaches
to foreign policy, as seen through the lens of Mead's typology, can provide
some insights, the lesson from history is that there will be unexpected turns.
Such surprises were less common during the Cold War, when the international
system enjoyed a certain level of stability under the bipolarity provided by
the U.S.-Soviet nuclear stalemate. But as 9/11 and the Iraq War have demonstrated,
surprises are inevitable at a time when, under the emerging multipolar system,
foreign policy crises seem to become the norm rather than the exception. But
we should not be surprised if the next president fails to create the foundations
of a grand, coherent U.S. global strategy, yet succeeds in providing the world
a new catch-phrase to describe his or her mix of ad hoc responses to global
crisis, adding to the lexicon that includes Bush Senior's "New World
Order," Bill Clinton's "Globalization," and George W.
Bush's "war on terrorism."
Courtesy of Right Web.