Will the 2012 US presidential election affect US foreign policy?

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Katja Kruse's picture

Dear Mitt,

Do you remember 2012, when you needed to convince your Republican fellows that you would make it differently than Obama, especially when it comes to pressing foreign policy issues. Back in those days you hawked a hard line on foreign policy and seemed to turn into Bush Three. I still remember your words in a speech about our exceptional nation and its position in the international system. You insisted: “This century must be an American century. In an American century,” you continued, “America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.” (FP: 2012). You still pretended that our holy country runs the world and your foreign policy strategy reflected your point of view. You seemed like an ostrich sticking your head in the sand, denying that the international distribution of power was rapidly changing and that we needed to adjust to these changes, if we wanted to make sure that we will still have clout in future international debates. But you decided not to do so. Your foreign policy views were quite different from those of your opponent, the President, the Democrat, the winner Obama.

President Barack Obama was ready to adjust to the changing global environment, you were not. He was leaving Iraq (you wanted to stay) and was overseeing a paced withdrawal from Afghanistan (all you wanted to was to fight the Taliban by all means), he fought al Quaeda with special operations and drone strikes (you instead took into consideration to occupy countries in the Middle East and South Asia in order to destroy al Quaeda), he tackled the issue of Iran by establishing an offshore posture in the Persian Gulf (you complained that this was a sign of weakness and proposed tougher instruments). When it came to China as a rising economic power, Obama decided to decrease the U.S. presence in Europe and established a strategic relationship with East Asia. This move was a clear signal from Obama against Chinese rising ambitions and ensured that the domestic economy would benefit from expanding markets in the Pacific Rim. You, my dear Mitt, instead ridiculed Obama’s approach as still too soft. You wanted to confront China with its currency policy, obviously not taking into account that you may raise the ire of China, triggering a trade war.

But you were not the only one, thinking that America is still ruling the world. There was also Rick Santorum, the “Not Romney” with his disturbing foreign policy positions. Just like you he was against the Afghanistan troop drawdown, criticizing Obama for not demanding “victory”. He, don’t quote me, seemed to be quite into making war. He was furious about Obama’s defense cuts, condemning them as a “wrong signal, wrong effort, and wrong time” and accusing him to intentionally trying to degrade our military and thus promoting our decline. When it came to Israel and Palestine, he did not want try to reach a peaceful agreement such as Obama, instead he believed that “it is the duty of each and every American citizen who abhors terrorism and supports freedom to stand up and say: “I support Israel!” Nevertheless, his position on Afghanistan, Iraq and military spending were not all that different than taken by you or most of the other Republican candidates. However, his point of view on China was quite unique and underlined quite well, how different his world view was in comparison to Obama’s. He did not see it as the new axis of evil, but along with the Iran and Venezuela it was according to him part of a “gathering storm”. Hence, he came to the conclusion: “I want to go to war with China; I want to beat China and make America the most attractive place in the world to do business.” What a naive and blinded person! China’s GDP was on its way to catch up with America’s over the course of the following decade, becoming the second world biggest economic power. Today, nine years later, it is just a matter of time when the dollar, euro, and China’s reniminbi will be co-equals in a “multi-currency” monetary system. I still have to laugh out loud, when I read his speeches but it also makes me wonder, Mitt, how you could have been so ignorant towards a such a fast emerging global landscape. Don’t get me wrong I still believe that our nation is indeed an exceptional country-you just have look at our geographic location, our commitment to and promotion  of norms such as freedom and democracy, and our international leadership during the decades. But you, my dear Mitt, used this exceptional beauty and identity of our country as an excuse to hide from international realities. You condemned Obama’s pragmatism, stating that “our president thinks America is in decline”, and of course you were wrong and he was right, when he said during lunch time: “Sorry, Mitt it won’t be an American century.” He was neither a declinist nor a pessimist. On the contrary, he refused to take comfort in denial like you did. He was a realist willing to adjust to the new given political circumstances and ready to guide the United States safely through this process of international transition. He made more room at the table of the powerful countries for newcomers such as India, Brazil and China and thus, understood that agile, firm diplomacy based on American power will be more effective in a constantly changing world than constant talk of American primacy. You failed to develop own approaches for adjusting to this changing international system and shied away from this challenge, with your head in the clouds and no feet on the ground.

Dear Mitt, you asked me in your last letter whether I think that the U.S. elections do have an effect on foreign policy. I think they do. Lessons learnt for the last century prove that leaders and their ideas matter. No history of the past hundred years can be told without referring the roles and thinking of such leaders as Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler or Mao Zedong. The actions of dominating leaders have a big impact on foreign policy decisions. Our predecessors Roosevelt, and Truman and their impact on American foreign policy show that leadership and personalities are the keys even in societies where institutions are strong and the maneuvering room for wielding personal power is more constrained.


  1. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE (2012): The Foreign Policy in the 2012 U.S. Presidential Elections. [Online] US Department of State. Available from: http://fpc.state.gov/178955.htm. [Accessed 17/02/2012].
  2. U.S. GOVERNMENT (2008): Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World. Washington D.C., p. 5.
  3. COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS (2012): Mitt Romney. [Online] Council on Foreign Relations. Available from: http://www.cfr.org/experts/world/mitt-romney/b13226#10.  [Accessed 17/02/2012].
  4. FOREIGN POLICY (2012): Sorry, Mitt it won’t be an American century. [Online] Foreign Policy. Available from: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/02/06/it_won_t_be_an_american_century. [Accessed 17/02/2012], pp. 1-3.
  5. OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY (2012): Rick Sanatorum’s Disturbing Foreign Policy Vision. [Online] Outside the Beltway. Available from: http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/rick-santorums disturbing-foriegn-policy-vision/. [Accessed 17/02/2012], 1-2.
  6. POLITICO (2012): Mitt Romney hawks new hard line on foreign policy. [Online] Politico. Available from: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0112/71632_Page2.html. [Accessed 17/02/2012], 1-3.