As promised, it’s time to look at the foreign policy angle. Stripping away the hype and the partisan commentry, just where do these two stand? Romney details two main issues he believes need dealing with if the USA is to remain at the top of the world economically and militarily. One he describes as challenging the jihadists and the other as competing with Asia. Alongside this, he has gone on record as saying Russia is America’s biggest geopolitical threat today. (ABC News 11 September 2012).
As for Obama, his policies (dubbed the Obama Doctrine by Washington Post Columnist EJ Dionne), can best be described as deployment of American power tempered by practical realism and self-awareness. Which means what exactly? Well, looking back to 2009, it meant rebuilding America’s often tarnished international reputation, normalising relations with Russia with a view towards further nuclear weapons reductions, working more closely with China on regional and global issues and striving for peace in the Middle East. However, the thing about Obama is that he’s also had to temper noble aspirations for a better world with a healthy dose of pragmatism. To Republicans that makes him a phony – to his apologists it simply means that in the mix of global events since 2009, pragmatism has had to dominate. Politicians can say what they like to get your vote – they may believe they can make it happen too. Then reality in the shape of domestic criticism, vested interests, lobby groups and Murphy’s Law interferes.
I would reckon that the same holds true whichever country you’re the leader of. America though is more under the spotlight than most and POTUS more than most other world leaders is going to have his every utterance and action analysed to the nth degree. Hence, compromise becomes weakness and inability to deliver quickly incompetance. In the end, people stop asking about your foreign policy strategy and start accusing you of simply responsding to events. Assuming that whoever ends up back in the Oval Office in November will be affected by the same constraints, which of the two contenders is going to be better for a) America and b) the rest of the world?
a) Well, I’m not American, so anything I say here is purely speculation. Of the two, Obama is most on the back foot as regards foreign policy. Republicans are gunning for him after the recent attacks on US embassies in the Middle East. They regard his approach to the Syria situation as weak and are suspicious of his cooler attitude towards Israel. Does Romney have anything better to offer? Doesn’t look that way. Romney accuses Obama of presiding over an American geopolitical decline and not being tough enough on Iran. He also promises that Republican foreign policy in a Romney administration will mean ‘never having to apologise for America’. Did he really mean that last bit to sound quite so strident?
Or is he quite happy with the image of America as the arrogant bully enforcing its will on the rest of the world right or wrong? Or is America de facto right, regardless of any external moral standards? That attitude got Palestinian kids dancing with joy at the sight of 9/11 footage and to be honest I found it hard to blame them. When the high school bully gets hospitalised it’s hard for his victims to feel sympathy. No, Obama isn’t perfect, but he’s better than the alternative. I want someone in the Oval Office who understands that the USA is not the sole arbiter of world power and who understands the psyche of people like the Russians and the Chinese. I especially want someone who is willing to say to both Iran AND Israel thus far and no further.
Solving our many political and economic problems as a planet cannot be done by one nation acting as top dog. Even the Chinese don’t really believe that. A closer partnership between Russia, China and the USA could achieve much without a serious diminishing of influence for any of them. America still has a lot to offer the world and still has a lot to do, but not as the sole economic, moral and military force . The following excerpt from an essay by Obama puts it pretty concisely:
“After Iraq, we may be tempted to turn inward. That would be a mistake. The American moment is not over, but it must be seized anew. We must bring the war to a responsible end and then renew our leadership — military, diplomatic, moral — to confront new threats and capitalize on new opportunities. America cannot meet this century’s challenges alone; the world cannot meet them without America.”