In this post I’ll address three major foreign policy topics and a handful of hot-button issues as tersely as I can to fit the medium of a blog post and constrained to what will fit within a single post. As I see it the three critical questions we should be considering in foreign policy are:
- What general direction should U. S. foreign policy take?
- How do we construct a new grand strategy in the War on Terror?
- What should we be doing about our three most important bilateral relationships?
Given the foreign policy position papers by both of the major party presidential candidates, it appears that whomever is elected president U. S. foreign policy will continue to be more interventionist than I’m entirely comfortable with.
I believe we should capitalize on our strengths and avoid exaggerating our deficits. Over the period of the last thirty years the U. S. has had considerable success in liberalizing trade worldwide and in promoting economic growth overseas. Over the same period even as the spectre of major power conflict receded, we’ve increased the militarizatiion of our foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. As a general rule I think we need to view our relations with our nations more as one of ongoing engagement, less as one of episodic intervention.
This is particularly true in pursuing a new strategy in the War on Terror. That we need a strategy is apparent. Over the last seven years we’ve spent trillions on increased security and on military interventions aimed at pursuing our old strategy in the War on Terror. That strategy can reasonably now be concluded to have failed or at least to have failed within the timeframe necessary for its success.
The old strategy, as I understand it, was that successful liberal democracy in the Middle East would have a viral effect. Although Iraq is more liberal and more democratic than it was under Saddam I don’t believe that its experience is sufficiently durable that we should have confidence in it or sufficiently positive that others will wish to emulate it.
As noted above my preferred approach would be one of ongoing engagement. That runs deeply against the grain of American predispositions but it’s a different world and we need to adapt to it. American businesses need to be encouraged to do more business in Middle Eastern countries. American diplomacy should be targeted at liberalizing trade and finance in the region.
The final major issue in our objective in our foreign policy is managing our critical bilateral relationships. I would deem the most signficant and problematic of these relationships as Russia, China, and Mexico. We have missed a historic opportunity with Russia, largely, I believe, by being in a hurry and now it will be more difficult. We are in great need of cultivating a more productive relationship with Russia and I’ll acknowledge they haven’t been a great deal of help. Not only will Russia continue to be an important regional power but between our two nations we possess 95% or more of the world’s nuclear weapons. Those reasons alone mean that Russia deserves more attention.
China is our fastest-growing trading partner and needs attention, too. We need to abandon the notion that we can influence China in any substantial way with incentives. It’s just too big. We can, however, influence our own behavior and we need to do that if only in self-preservation. China needs to cultivate a larger domestic market for its good and we need China to do that. We should encourage China in that direction and to that end I believe that we should move towards a policy of reciprocity with respect to China.
The interrelationship between Mexico and the United States is unique. We are the only country in the world that shares a large land border with a country whose per capita GDP is a quarter of our own. Mexico is our second or third largest trading partner depending on the month, is a major source of our oil, and is our primary resource for inexpensive labor. Because of the unique situation expecting the relationship between the U. S. and Mexico to resemble that of, say, Germany and Poland is, frankly, stupid.
Mexico’s current economic course, dependent on petrodollars and remittances, is unsustainable, its society is under stress, and its political situation is fragile. The costs to us of Mexico’s becoming a failed state would be high. It’s something we should not allow to happen and the failure of successive American administrations in establishing a more constructive relationship with Mexico is another missed opportunity.
I believe that President Obama will withdraw troops from Iraq while maintaining a sizeable military commitment to the country and call it ending the war while President McCain will withdraw troops from Iraq while maintaining a sizeable military commitment to the country and call itwinning the war. We’re going to maintain a sizeable military commitment to Iraq for the foreseeable future because our presence there is one factor that keeps the country from falling into chaos, the costs of Iraq’s falling into chaos would be high, and doing otherwise would be foolhardy. I believe the security situation in Iraq will continue to improve and as it does we need to encourage American businesses to be involved in Iraq.
We can’t achieve any victory worthy of the name in Afghanistan as long as the federally-administered tribal areas of Pakistan are a safe haven for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, Pakistan can’t prevent that from happening without coming apart at the seams, and a failed state of Pakistan would be a disaster for the entire region. Conducting raids into the country is an error. More troops in Afghanistan won’t change any of the foregoing. We need to start thinking of the situation in Afghanistan as a long-term military and economic commitment rather than a short-term expedition.
I believe that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons but that trying to prevent them from doing so using military force would be simultaneously ineffective and counterproductive. If we can’t get cooperation from the permanent members of the UN Security Council for an embargo on arms and gasoline shipped into Iran (and we can’t) and we aren’t willing to take the backlash from blockading Iran (and we aren’t), we need to negotiate an agreeable settlement with Iran. That means giving them things we don’t want to give them and they want, notably security guarantees. We’ll also need to get used to the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran. That means a re-vitalization of our deterrence doctrine. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that either presidential candidate understands or believes in our deterrence doctrine.
Ongoing expansion of NATO is now a dead letter. If Germany, France, and the United Kingdom are decreasingly willing to fund their military at a sufficient level to enable them to project force beyond their own borders and are unlikely to go to war in defense of the new NATO members to their east, I see no reason for NATO to exist. If there is ongoing value to NATO, we need to find ways of reasserting its nature as a mutual defense treaty rather than as the United States defending Europe.
I’m only scratching the surface here and there are dozens of foreign policy issues large and small including WTO trade policy, the ICC, our relationships with the countries of South America, our relationships with the countries of Africa, and innumerable others.
Alex Knapp at Heretical Ideas has contributed a solid and dispassionate comparison of the foreign policies of the two candidates including their ideas about trade, Russia, nuclear proliferation, and other issues. I believe that he’s reached much the same conclusion as I have: they differ mostly in detail.
fester at Newhoggers posts on the new constraints in U. S. foreign policy, something with which he notes the candidates have yet to come to terms.