Wednesday, October 05, 2011

US Foreign Policy and 2012 Election

As the presidential election is coming closer, it is necessary to explore foreign policy debates. Around the 10th anniversary of 9/11, some critical issues have emerged such as Palestinian bid for UN membership, Admiral Mullen’s congressional testimony on Pakistani ISI’s connections with the Haqqani Network (“Pakistan supports Haqqani network, Adm. Mullen tells Congress”; CNN News; September 23, 2011), and Iran’s decision to deploy nuclear centrifuge machine (“Iran's Nuclear Experiments Raise Alarm at U.N. Agency”; Wall Street Journal; September 3, 2011). Can America still afford to pay little attention to foreign policy? The other day, Iran even announced to send its fleet off the Atlantic coast of the United States (“Iran planning to send ships near U.S. waters”; September 28; CNN News).

I would like to mention some commentaries about foreign policy focuses in the forthcoming election. George Friedman, Chief Executive Officer of a Texas-based think tank STRATFOR, points out inherent contradictions and weaknesses associated with the birth of the Obama administration. Those who voted for Barack Hussein Obama expected him to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, stop unilateralism, narrow socio-economic inequality, stop job exports, and close Guantánamo prison. However, Obama insisted that the United States focus on Afghanistan and stop fighting in Iraq. Quite ironically, Obama’s multilateralism has not filled the gap between America and Europe. As opposed to Obama’s expectation, Europeans are not necessarily willing to help the United States in managing global challenges, even though his administration shows willingness to listen to Europe. Typically, Germany even refused to “lead from behind” in Libya, and did neither join air attack nor send ground troops there.

More importantly, we should bear in mind that Barack Obama won the last election mainly because voters were upset with sudden financial crisis. His core supporters are welfare state oriented, and prefer high tax policies. On the other hand, centrists do not necessarily object to tax increase, but they are extremely sensitive to big spending accompanied by state interventionist welfare plans. George Friedman says that since Obama is preoccupied with balancing his core supporters and swing voters, his policy focus is on domestic politics, which makes US foreign policy receptive to external affair during the election. The problem is, external shocks that I mention at the beginning are too great for the United States to act receptively. (Obama's Dilemma: U.S. Foreign Policy and Electoral Realities”; Geopolitical Weekly; September 20, 2011)

However, such little attention to is a boon to Obama, as Jimmy Carter failed in his second term election, because of Iranian students seizure of US embassy and Soviet invasion to Afghanistan, according to Tony Blankley, Visiting Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Despite this, Blankley is critically concerned that Obama foreign policy weakens America’s position in the world. Particularly, Blankley is alarmed with Russia and China. Obama was not prepared to the return of Vladimir Putin during the Medvedev presidency, and treated Putin as if he was a secondary leader. Therefore incoming Putin is not comfortable with Obama. This ruins an opportunity for the United States to pursue a Kissingerian diplomacy to balance Russia and China. In addition, the Obama administration withdrew the missile defense system from Poland and Czech, though Kremlin is turning toward more nationalist. His appeasement to China raises concerns even among liberals and neoliberals (“President's Foreign Policy Failures Increase”; Real Clear Politics; September 28, 2011). Obama is in no position to belittle foreign policy in this election, considering global balance of power and American safety.

Though election debates are extremely inward-looking, some foreign policy issues draw a nationwide attention among voters. The Israel-Palestine conflict is one of them. The influence of Iranian sponsored Hamas in the Palestine Authority raises concerns among the American public. A Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, strongly demanded that the Obama administration not endorse Palestine bid for UN membership (“Perry blasts Obama’s policies on Israel, Palestinians”; Washington Post; September 21, 2011). We should not dismiss that conservative civic advocacy groups like Move America Forward regard Israel as an indispensible ally in the War on Terror, because it is the only Western styled democracy in the Middle East. Things are beyond the Jewish lobby.

Regarding Admiral Mullen’s testimony, Sadanand Dhume, columnist of the Wall Street Journal, comments that this suggests America’s frustration with Pakistan’s ambiguous attitude in the War on Terror. Shortly before the testimony at the Senate Armed Service Committee, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul. Dhume argues that Pakistan needs to show its commitment to fight against the Haqqani Network, so that the United States will not resort to strong actions like military attacks in Pakistani territory (“Admiral Mullen Slams Pakistan”; The Enterprise Blog; September 22, 2011). This issue can make the Af-Pak problem increasingly sensitive in the forthcoming election, in view of President Obama’s decision to scale down the troop level in Afghanistan.

In such atmosphere, China stays calm. The Chinese government held a state-sponsored concert of a Japanese pop-singer group called SMAP in Beijing this September, in order to ease bilateral tensions with Japan on the Senkaku Islands dispute ("Wen 'sincerely welcomes' SMAP's Beijing concert Fri."; Kyodo News; September 15, 2011) . I wonder whether such a smiling diplomacy is just aimed at Japan. China may be taking cautious approaches not to provoke America during the election. In any case, foreign policy debates cannot be dismissed in this election. The bipartisan super committee will announce their final conclusion on defense budget, this November. Since key policy agendas are intertwined, domestic economy cannot stand alone.