Thursday, April 17, 2014

American Foreign Policy Moving to the Right

The American foreign policy consensus in favor of a more modest international role is being challenged by events and domestic politics. The likely result will be a split in both political parties between more militant interventionist forces and isolationist and pacifist wings. But, for the first time since 2006 when the war in Iraq was in the news and voters’ minds, foreign policy will be a backdrop in the 2014 congressional elections and front and center in the 2016 presidential debate.
  • World events and adversaries appear to challenge the Obama administration’s basic foreign policy principles of adherence to universal norms, negotiations, non-military sanctions, withdrawal from military commitments and playing a supporting role in multilateral coalitions.
             - Palestinian/Israeli negotiations are at an impasse (no surprise, participants
               ignoring negotiations)
             - Russia and President Putin seized Crimea and are destabilizing Ukraine
               (expected, ignoring sanctions and negotiations)
             - Iranian negotiations are opaque and highly uncertain (Iran and Russian
               are untrusted)
             - Syrian conflict continues and President Assad appears securely in power
               (negotiations ignored, lack of military options)
  • Domestic politics is focused on the administration’s competence and ability to lead as a result of Washington gridlock and the Affordable Care Act meltdown. The foreign policy challenges contribute to administration woes.
  • Public appears supportive of administration’s basic principles, but express increasing concern over America’s position in world. They believe President and U.S. have lost respect and influence. In recent challenges, significant percentages want more forceful action.
  • Republican establishment escalates criticism of administration on “failures” in Middle East and Ukraine/Crimea. But some elements of party take more isolationist view and aim criticism at abuses of executive power in NSA and drone policies.
  • Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ leading candidate, is attempting to travel in same direction as administration, yet not get hit by the incoming fire. She has indicated a more aggressive posture with President Putin, even if only rhetorical and a more cynical position on the Iranian negotiations.
  • “Freckless,” a word used by a Washington Post editorial last winter to describe Secretary Kerry’s negotiations with Syria and a description of the President’s viewpoint on military options as “defeatist,” set the mark for criticism and have become the themes for many editorial and foreign policy elites’ viewpoints over the last couple months as foreign impasses appear to mount.
It is clear a debate at the leadership level is beginning in both parties, and the loudest voices today are moving American policy away from the administration’s strategy and assumptions to a more forceful position, that is, to the right.

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