Will the outcome of the 2012USpresidential election really affect US foreign policy priorities?

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Lucas Heideman's picture

Will the outcome of the 2012 US presidential election really affect US foreign policy priorities?

Presidential contests are won by the most charismatic and open campaign.  As we have seen in the 2012 presidential race, there seems to be a disconnect between the voters and candidates.  On the Republican side, there is a battle between conservatives and moderates.  Democrats, on the other hand, are forced to make due with a mostly failed dream of change.  So, how can a caucus in an incredibly non-diverse Iowa, affect US foreign policy?

I served with the US Army in Iraq from 2005-2006 and saw the dramatic effects of a power struggle resulting from the removal of a dictator.  I spent 11 of those months with the former president himself, Saddam Hussein.  In speaking with him, I realized any type of government can be susceptible to a dramatic change in foreign policy.  However, rarely do the politicians suffer.  It is the civilians and soldiers on the ground that must absorb the brunt of the change in foreign policy.  That being said, the United States’ constitutional republic is much different from the dictatorship mentioned above.  Thus, US foreign policy has a way of adapting to a changing world rather than changing based on the wishes of the presidential cabinet.

This election year, Republicans will have a hard time demonstrating Obama has been deficient in dealing with foreign threats.  During Obama’s first three years, he increased the presence of unmanned aerial vehicles along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border and unabashedly used the nations special forces to neutralize threats from Somalia to Pakistan.  In doing so, the Obama administration caught more Taliban leaders in one month than the previous administration did in six years (Daily Kos, 2010).  So, what would a republican candidate do differently?  Unless the election season continues to take a right turn and we see Rick Santorum as president, I believe there will not be a major change.

The recession and the resulting concern about the nation’s deficit, has had a detrimental impact on the nations ability to face a new threat.  The probability of a major cyber attack, could dramatically change US foreign policy.  The US will need to address China about hackers stealing the intellectual property of US companies.  The funding cuts the Pentagon is facing is troubling considering the world is getting more volatile.  If there was a cyber attack, it would be hard to place blame on the current administration.  Both sides, Democrat and Republican, are committed to national security.  Funding cuts could contribute to an increased threat, but both sides recognize the need for a more balanced budget.

On the horizon, the US will undoubtedly have to face one of the largest threats to world security: Iran and its quest for a nuclear weapon.  Whoever the US president is at the time, will need to choose their words carefully.  President Obama has sometimes been seen as a soft supporter of Israel, and hum on Iran’s nuclear program.  He will need to reevaluate his stance in the coming months.  In fact, I believe the war of words between Israel and Iran will come to a head before the next election.  This will be a defining moment in President Obama’s term and will most likely determine his reelection.  If there ends up being an Iranian conflict with Israel, no matter who the US president is, the US will support Israel.  However, who the president is could determine how involved the US will be.  Air power could be used but US troops on the ground is not something Americans have the stomach for now. 

The Arab Spring is anything but over.  Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad’s days are numbered, which does not make Russia or Iran happy.  Regardless of the US administration, there is virtually no way the US will be dragged into a conflict with Syria.   The American people will not tolerate the possibility of another drawn out conflict, irrespective of party affiliation.  The continuing support of the Arab world is a necessity.  Both Obama and Romney have the ability and desire to make lasting relationships in the region.  However, due to Santorum’s past comments about Islam, he could cause worsening relations with the Middle East (Goodenough, 2012).

Leading up to the presidential election in 2008, one of President Obama’s most attractive policies for Democratic voters, was his promise to end the war in Iraq (Shanker, 2008).  He ran on a platform of foreign policy change.  The time for foreign policy change was here.  Our wars were finally coming to an end, the Democrats thought.  I caucused that presidential election in a tiny town in Iowa.  A young man, hopeful for something, anything to change.  A young man dreading the thought of consoling another mother of a killed hero.  Two years later, I was in Afghanistan, serving in combat under President Obama, a Democrat.  Will the outcome of the 2012 US presidential election really affect US foreign policy priorities?  I might be a little biased and bitter, but I don’t think a change in the US presidency is much of a change at all.

References: 
  1. Daily Kos, February 19, 2010, Retrieved on February 10, 2012 from, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/02/19/838604/-GOOD-NEWS-Obama-has-   caught-more-Taliban-Leaders-in-1-month-than-Bush-Cheney-did-in-6-years
  2. Goodenough, Patrick, January 23, 2012, CNS News, Educate Yourself on Islam, CAIR Tells Santorum, Retrieved on February 12, 2012 from, http://cnsnews.com/news/ article/educate-yourself-islam-cair-tells-santorum
  3. Shanker, Thom, December 3, 2008, The New York Times, Campaign Promises on Ending the War in Iraq Now Muted by Reality, Retrieved on February 16, 2012 from, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/04/us/politics/04military.html
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