Will the 2012 US presidential election affect US foreign policy?

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Apurva Joshi's picture

The incoming president of the U.S. will inherit a world witnessing sweeping gusts of change as  Russia, China, Mexico, France, the United States  will witness a change in their administrative echelons. There has been a  shift in power from the once mighty West to countries like China, Brazil, and India etc. The Arab spring, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Euro Crisis will keep world leaders on the tenterhooks.

The Foreign Policy Agenda of the U.S Department of State is aimed at creating a more secure, democratic and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community. The impending elections have once again pushed foreign policy in the public domain. But there is one difference in elections 2012, foreign policy issues have been relegated to the background while unemployment and a suffering economy have taken center stage.

This however does not mean that the candidates have obliterated foreign policy from their campaign agendas. Foreign policy is an indispensible chip in the American election campaign. It is a platform for candidates to showcase their leadership mettle. It shows that the candidates are not afraid to flex their muscles to accomplish goals oversees should circumstances call for the same. It is a means to build favor with voters subscribing to different beliefs and ideologies.

The recent presidential debates have show that the Republican candidates have kept alive the tradition of endorsing an activist foreign policy while accusing the incumbent of being soft on countries such as Iran. The incumbent is treading carefully and not endorsing measures which will strain relationships with countries such as China, Israel etc.

Barrack Obama, the unopposed candidate from the Democrats’ arsenal, rode into the white house in 2008 on the promise of ushering in change. The euphoria of 2008 has died down. High unemployment rates and an economy in doldrums have taken the sheen off Obama’s tenure. Obama has had significant achievements in the domain of foreign policy; withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, assassination of Osama Bin Laden, Libya’s freedom from the clutches of Muammar Qaddafi, all under his watch, giving him ammunition to counter the Republicans’ claims of him being soft on dissenting countries.

 A brief summary of Obama’s policies is as follows: Obama initially extended a cooperative hand towards China. The U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue for discussion of trade and other issues was introduced to lay the foundation for a cooperative relationship. When China did not reciprocate he toughened his stance. Obama  criticized China on its currency policies, approved a $5.8 billion arms sales package for Taiwan, confronted China on its growing presence in the South China sea .In 2012 he announced the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit to keep a tab on unfair trading practices and counterfeit goods. He admonished China during the APEC Summit. His administration brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate of the previous one. Other than some of these tough measures, Obama has toed a cautious line in his dealings with China as China is a major trading partner of the U.S.A and helps finance the federal budget deficit. If reelected he is most likely to continue with or perhaps slightly toughen his current stance towards China.

 Obama initially encouraged dialogue to engage with Iran and to dissuade it from advancing its nuclear programme. The controversial Iranian presidential elections, violent crackdown on opposition supporters, volte face on the IAEA deal and continued enrichment activities hardened Obama’s stance.  He imposed new sanctions and toughened the existing ones. The sanctions are targeted at Iran’s petrochemical and banking sector in an attempt to choke the money supply that is channelized into nuclear activities. Obama favors a diplomatic approach in dealing with Iran instead of resorting to military action that his republican cohorts endorse. In the same breath Obama has shied away from calling for military action against Iran in lieu of Israel’s plans to attack Iran, he favors a dual solution to the Israel Palestine problem, his strained relationship with Israel’s prime minister among other issues has  led to Republican’s criticizing him for his waning support for Israel. This might displease the Jewish Americans who lean Democratic and are major contributors to the campaign coffers. To appease them and keep them for straying to the Republican side, Obama has strongly opposed Palestine’s bid for statehood while talking about his commitment to Israel time and again. As Israel contemplates military action against to stop Iran’s growing nuclear facilities, America will automatically be pulled into the quagmire. Obama will be forced to take action and will probably end up assisting Israel. This would undermine Obama’s credibility of being an able statesman. But if the U.S. supersedes Israel then the U.S. will be respected by its citizens and by other nations. On the flip side America’s meddling may lead to an outbreak of Islamist terrorism and may give rise to many human right issues and Oil prices might move further up north. Obama’s stand on Israel and Iran will be further shaped by the prevalent public sentiment over the course of time.

Obama in his campaign bid has steered clear of mentioning Afghanistan. His administration has set a 2014 deadline for withdrawing troops from the war torn country but this does not ensure that it will be a smooth transition to democracy free from the clutches of Taliban. The incoming president has limited freedom when it comes to drastically changing the military situation in this war torn country. The incoming president will have some tough decisions up his sleeve on providing aid to the Afghan forces or for negotiating with the Taliban to usher in stability.

On the transition sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, Obama has emphasized that he would stand ‘against violence and intimidation’. He went on to say that Assad’s reign on Syria will soon come to an end. But he has not offered a clear roadmap on what U.S.’s role in this process would be.

On the other hand the campaign of the four republican candidates resonates with over optimism. According to their stance (with the exception of Ron  Paul) the use of America's military might will lead to Iran calling off its nuclear program, Pakistan would no longer nurture terrorism on its soil, the Taliban would be crushed, Assad will no longer rule Syria with an Iron grip ,China would curb its predatory trade practices. The Republicans seem to overlook the fact that America is no longer the only power hub in the world and the use of force can give rise to increase in Islamist terrorism, gross human rights violations, strained relationships with important trading partners to name a few.

On the republican side we have Ron Paul who subscribes to the view that the U.S  should focus its energy and resources on solving the problems that directly affect the American people. He endorses a policy of non intervention in the affairs of other nation, free trade with China and subscribes to the  belief that China's undervalued currency is not the main culprit for the US-China  trade imbalances .He would cut off foreign aid to countries like Israel and is against declaring war on Iran or military action in Syria. He  would encourage discussing trade with North Korea instead of cutting of all contact with the dissenter. He feels the American taxpayers money can be put to better uses than scourging it in North Korea, Iran etc

The rest of the three Republican  candidates, namely Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rich Santorum advocate a more belligerent foreign policy, where they consider displaying America's military might to be the panacea for all ills in the world. They advocate a tough stance against China, disregarding the fact that it is in America's interest to maintain a healthy relationship with the land of the dragon. They support warmongering wherein they believe the use of force on Iran would cripple the nuclear enrichment programs of the country. They are vocal in their support for Israel in both monetary and military terms. They endorse intervening in Syria to take Assad down. They promise support for the dissenters in the Arab World and see America playing a greater role in ushering in democracy in the country.

There is not much scope for changing America's policies drastically when it comes to countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and some other countries due to the current circumstances in these nations and this is evident in the stance of the Republicans and Democrats in dealing with these countries.

But one must bear in mind that the policies of the Republicans are mostly rhetorical and they have still not presented a clear roadmap for approaching today's changing world. Also what is claimed during the campaign may not necessarily be implemented once the candidate assumes office. It is also possible that once a Republican takes office his policies might just be  an extrapolation of those of Obama's.