President Obama has won the election. The US has its own traditions, normally the Americans give their presidents a second chance. There are rare exclusions from the rule when the failure is too evident like in the case of Jimmy Carter in 1981 or a party held the reins too long (President Bush Sr. was elected only once but there were three Republican terms in a row).
After festivities are over, he’ll get his sleeves up without looking back at how this or that decision may play out at the next election that he may lose. Now will the US foreign policy change? Are we in for something new or it’s the same old story repeating the same mistakes?
US foreign policy
President Obama is the person who very well understands the world has changed and the USA is to adopt new approaches and apply new policies. But the ability to understand it doesn’t translate into a well-defined vision of what to do in pure concrete terms.
The US foreign policy in general is based on responses to challenges emerged, no clear cut ways to achieve the long-term goals are defined.
No fundamental changes are in sight, so there is little hope anything drastic will take place in the next four years, including the Russia-US relations.
It’s more probable we’ll face the very same going around in circles instead of joining together to tackle the problems of Asia-Pacific, Arctic economic development and non-proliferation as we could have.
As the debates showed the US foreign agenda by and large boils down to the Middle East: the US intervention in Libya, the stance on Syria, the Arab Spring in general, the Iran policy and the security of Israel.
No matter harsh criticism during the debates, there was no essential difference between the presidential candidates, no alternative offered to mostly responsive posture.
The US pivot to Asia, announced by Obama, was no doubt logical, but rather obfuscatory in practical terms. Since in power Obama has been talking about global changes calling for new relations with emerging centers of power and boosting the US global influence.
However, he has not said what practical steps should be taken to achieve it. His clearer vision of the 21st century world doesn’t mean he knows exactly how the US should change its course to adapt to reality.
Obama hasn’t achieved great foreign policy successes but at least he made good on his promise to pull out of Iraq and didn’t make the US get involved into one more conflict.
Perhaps his Middle East policy has not been up to expectations mentioned in his 2009 Cairo speech, but there is a reason to believe Romney could have done much worse.
The President is pragmatic enough to understand the US has no leverage over Russia. He also understands the bilateral relations may not be an issue on the radar screen during the election campaign, but the Russian Federation is the country global and regional security issues cannot be tackled without.
Most probably he will continue a dialogue that has been fruitful in some fields during his first term: the START-2, the nuclear energy 123 agreement, transit routes to Afghanistan to name a few.
Mr. Obama will certainly go on with the reset policy he started in 2009. But this time it will require a new impetus and corresponding agenda. The strategic arms reduction, introduction of changes into missile defense plans, Iran, Afghanistan, NATO extension – these issues have setting the agenda and tangible progress has been achieved in some areas while it has failed in others.
Russia has become a WTO member, but the Jackson-Vanik amendment is still in force to be supplemented by the Magnitsky list – an issue that will no doubt cloud the relationship. Now the agenda is exhausted and there is no other set of issues to open opportunities for achievements. The strategic arms reduction is no longer the one, Moscow will not agree to further reductions without third parties joining in.
No longer has Iran set the agenda after NATO flagrantly went beyond the UN resolution on Libya. The Afghanistan may cause divergence of views. NATO is intent on leaving at any cost as soon as possible.
The USA mulls over the plans to ensure some form of strategic presence in the country or in adjacent states that naturally raises questions on the part of Russia. No way will the United States refuse the missile defense.
No way will Russia reconcile with the threat to its strategic forces. Actually the program could be reviewed especially its intercontinental partial (2018) and full (2020) capability, but it will meet stiff opposition in Congress.
If some “flexibility” promised by Mr. Obama will become reality then the issue may become an example of cooperation instead of being an obstacle on the way of relationship improvement.
The economy is not in such a bad shape, it has been growing for 13 consecutive months slowly enough, but it’s on the rise. In the third quarter of the current year it grew by 2% (year on year calculation).
Romney being a real right wing alternative to cut extra weight, bring financial order, lessen the tax burden, spur economic growth and get tough on international stage is a myth as long as we’re talking about the Republican Party.
Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were the only presidents to cut state debt in the last 35 years. The state debt grew from 33 up to 53% of GDP under Ronald Reagan that increased up to 66% when George Bush Senior was in power.
Bill Clinton made it go down to 56%, quite an achievement while there was budget surplus unlike in the previous Republican administrations terms. Republican George Bush Jr. went back to budget deficits again starting since 2002 while the state debt went up to 84% coming close to 100%.
And it did during the Obama’s term but the debt growth rate is down and the percentage of state expenditure within the GDP structure started to dwindle. It’s a slow process but it’s going in the right direction.
It was not left-oriented Joe Stiglitz who advises Obama, but experienced bankers like Timothy Geithner and Larry Sommers who do. Taking the bull by the horns may sound great but, as the UK example under David Cameron shows it doesn’t mean immediate economic recovery.
If Romney started abrupt budget cuts, then the US would be in for hard times affecting the global economy in its turn. But if he didn’t, then all the pre-election promises would become empty words.
The debt situation is a result of systematic crisis within the GOP. Getting taxes down is actually a good thing if it goes along with other measures. Under Bush Jr. war expenditure went up to $1,5 trillion, a fourth of total debt growth.
When Romney says Russia is a foe, Syrian opposition should be armed, Israel defended – it all means more spending, new deficits, new debts. It’s either Mr. Romney is not very candid or military expenditure is to make all deficit reduction efforts go down the drain to repeat the mistakes of the Bush Jr. That’s what US voters realized going to voting booths on November 6.
The Republican rhetoric may sound attractive, but the party is facing hard times. Along with calls low taxes and budget discipline, the 19th century values come to the surface too, like the stand on abortion and a lot of other things scaring away the progressive voters. The Tea Party ultras squeeze out moderate politicians undermining the Republicans prospects for future.
True, Mr. Obama has not lived up to many expectations. His eloquence helps but not to the extent it was four years ago when he was a newcomer giving a hope.
He has actually failed in the Middle East, he faces growing anti-American sentiments in Latin America and elsewhere in the world, he cannot oppose China’s influence due to well-known economic realities, his reset policy towards Russia has failed so far, his economic performance is a far cry from real recovery.
But he preserved control when the country was in dire straits and has solved some problems. It’s not a strong opponent but rather frustration over the results of his first term that Obama had to fight. So election result means a lot of uncertainty…
Andrei AKULOV | Strategic Culture Foundtion