Thursday, October 21, 2010

Will the United States Shed “post-American” Foreign Policy?

Since the inauguration, Barack Obama has been acting like a post-American president rather than American, just in order to change George W. Bush’s go it alone America into Zbignew Brzezinski’s lovable America. This is the vital reason why I have been critical to the Obama administration.

However, in view of czarist Russia, peacefully rising China, and nuclear proliferators Iran and North Korea, Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, argues a very interesting point that the Obama administration will act more assertively in the latter half of this term. Kagan says that the Obama administration will shift emphasis on democratic allies in Phase Ⅱ, from great power cooperation and nebulous policy coordination of G20 in Phase Ⅰ (“America: Once engaged, now ready to lead”; Washington Post; October 1, 2010). Comparing the speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year (“Clinton: U.S. Urges 'Multi-Partner World'”; Washington Post; July 16, 2009) and this year (“Clinton declares 'new moment' in U.S. foreign policy in speech”; Washington Post; September 9, 2010), Kagan finds changes in US foreign policy direction as mentioned above.

Chinese expansionist ambition is growing as shown in the Senkaku Islands dispute with Japan. Moreover, political pressure posed by China on Norway for awarding Nobel Peace Prize for Liu Xiabo raised critical concerns in the global community. Sophie Richardson, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, comments "This Nobel Prize honors not only Liu's unflinching advocacy; it honors all those in China who struggle daily to make the government more accountable", even though the award infuriates the Chinese authority (“China: Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Spotlights Rights Deficit”; Human Rights Watch News; October 8, 2010). Asia-Pacific nations are critically alarmed at the peaceful rise of autocratic China, and explore staunch alliance with the United States. On the other hand, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization criticized the prize for Liu Xiaobao Western-centered (“SCO comes out against the Nobel Peace Prize”; EurasiaNet—The Bug Pit; October 15, 2010). As Professor Masako Ikegami of Stockholm University in Sweden argues, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is an axis of autocracies led by China and Russia, and NATO and Asia-Pacific democracies must unite against their expansionism.

Russia is another challenger. Secretary Clinton visited Georgia, Poland, and Ukraine this July to reset the reset and balk Russian expansionism. New START, which is a landmark of the reset, awaits Senate ratification currently. In November 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates raised critical concerns as a cabinet member of the Bush administration that the United States had not designed new nuclear weapons while Russia was developing new ones, in the lecture at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Unlike the previous START between George H. W. Bush and Boris Yeltin, the Obama administration explores to reach an agreement when nuclear power balance is not in favor of the United States. Conservatives criticize new START. Russia succeeded in the test of launching new Bulava missile early October (“Russia's Bulava missile hits target in test”; RIA Novosti; 7 October, 2010). The reset with Russia was hasty, and needs to be reconsidered now.

In addition, engagement policy with Iran has not made any progress. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tries to divert public attention from domestic issues such as poor economy, growing democracy movements, and so forth. In the video below, broadcasted by France 24 on September 10, Meir Javedanfar who heads a London based think tank called Meepas, says the Iranian economy has deteriorated, and the number of brain drains and drug abuse has increased since the Islamic Revolution. Such desperate domestic politics leads Ahmadenejad to move toward nuclear development.

Also, Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor of the Council on Foreign Relations, mentions that domestic political rivalry with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Parliament Chairman Ali Larijani erodes Ahmadinejad’s leadership (“Iran's 'Shaky' Ahmadinejad”; CFR Interview; September 21, 2010). Those aspects are supposed to make Ahmadinejad increasingly hardliner.

In view of the above challenges, American foreign policy may return to the normalcy. Alliance with European and Asian democracies will be re-strengthened as Robert Kagan argues. The problem is, whether President Obama is willing to make sufficient military commitment to defeat enemies and contain threats.

The war in Afghanistan is a Litmus test to judge Obama is an American or post-American president. Referring to “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward, Charles Krauthammer talks of Obama, "He is out of Afghanistan psychologically." When Obama announced the surge in Afghanistan on December 1 last year, he said that US troops would withdraw in 18 months. While Obama explores an exit strategy, he is not willing to get involved with institution building that is the very essence of the counterinsurgency strategy endorsed by General Stanley McChrystal and General David Petraeus. Obama is preoccupied with domestic politics and Democrat support in view of the midterm election (“Why is Obama sending troops to Afghanistan?”; Washington Post; October 1, 2010). It is quite problematic that President Obama does not believe in the most important mission in the War on Terror. Moreover, the vacuum of power by early withdrawal will provoke China to pursue expansionism in the Middle East as it does in Africa.

Remember that lowering military commitment does not guarantee economic growth. William Kristol, Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, argues against widely spread misunderstandings that military spending hurts the US economy. Even including the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, defense spending accounts for 4.9% of GDP this year, which is much lower than annual average of 6.5% since World War Ⅱ. Compared with other budgets, defense spending has not increased so much since 9-11. Quite importantly, Kristol points out that instability around the world due to lack of US military commitment will ruin the environment for long term economic growth. As Kristol insists “A weaker, cheaper military will not solve our financial woes.” (“Peace Doesn't Keep Itself”; Wall Street Journal; October 4, 2010)

The problem of insufficient military commitment is more deep-rooted. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has underfunded defense budget, assuming that the history has ended. Therefore, the Obama administration is not the only one responsible for security challenges today. A recent report by leading conservative think tanks refutes the myth of excessive spending on defense. In terms of purchasing power parity, Chinese military spending is almost close to that of American. Regarding sustainability of defense expenditure, Mackenzie Eaglen, Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, points out that defense spending is not source of fiscal deficit, because social welfare expenditures grow more rapidly since 1976. The joint report endorses US role as the global policeman, and argues that US forces must be well prepared to deter would be aggressors from destabilizing the world (“Defending Defense”; Joint Paper of AEI, Heritage Foundation, and Foreign Policy Initiative; October, 2010).

The Obama administration may reset the reset of US foreign policy as Robert Kagan argues. But it must be founded on military preeminence over potential adversaries and current enemies. Also, the Obama team must act beyond domestic constraints. In Phase Ⅰ, Obama was preoccupied with health care and the economy. In Phase Ⅱ, President Obama may have to spend more energy to persuade Republican opponents in domestic politics, as conservative momentum is growing in the forthcoming midterm elections. But this is a poor excuse. American leadership in global security is beyond partisan politics. President Obama needs to re-strengthen the League of Democracies. Once potential adversaries and current enemies see America weak, political and security environment will turn unfavorable to economic prosperity for free allies and America itself. The world does not need a lovable America.