While people in Eastern Europe can’t vote in this election, Polish Americans, Latvian Americans, Ukrainian Americans and other Americans with roots in countries that feel threatened by an aggressive Russia do. Many of these voters are part of the very demographic groups upon whom Mr. Trump will rely on for his path to victory against Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump needs a record proportion of white votes to win this election; and he particularly needs them in states of the upper Midwest, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that have long had large numbers of voters with roots in Eastern Europe.
Yet, the West rarely recognizes that Russia, like countries in the West, has its own interests. To Westerners, Russia’s actions are part of a storied narrative: It consistently acts in outrageous ways to thwart not Western interests, but also moral and political good in Ukraine. There’s a big problem with that view: By recasting a struggle between two political forces and interests as one simply between right and wrong, the West makes it more difficult to understand and combat Russian influence. If the U.S. and Europe want to change Russia’s behavior, they must toss those antiquated, Cold War notions, and accept that modern tensions are substantially based on economic and political interests, not just on latent Russian anger, or its alleged inferiority complex. That means accepting, for example, that scolding Russian leaders for breaking Western rules and expectations won’t provoke changes in Moscow. More dramatically, it may require the U.S. to recognize the limits of its ability to influence outcomes in Ukraine or other countries where Russia also has interests at stake.
Many of these right wing attacks are offensive and extremely disrespectful to the memory of a truly great man, but they should not be so quickly dismissed as just the rantings of angry right wingers. These comments about Mandela are also echoes of what many said about him when he was alive, particularly before he became president of a free South Africa.
U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, and in many regards since end of World War II has rested on several assumptions not about the nature of the world or of the threats facing the U.S., but about the U.S. and America’s perception of itself. Several key components of American foreign policy in its internationalist form including democracy promotion, foreign assistance generally, the unique role the U.S. seeks to play in global security issues, the U.S. military presence in almost every corner of the world, and the emphasis on human rights all are based upon the U.S. viewing itself as both able to make an impact and affluent enough to afford trying.
It would be inaccurate to link the current American decline too directly to the events of September 11th. This would be giving Bin Laden too much credit. Had there been no attacks, it is certainly possible that the Bush administration would still have led the country into damaging and extremely costly wars, perhaps even in Iraq. It is almost certain that the Bush administration would have sought to cut taxes and found ways to spend money thus creating the debt-related problems the U.S. now faces, but this might have happened more slowly or less dramatically.
During the Cold War, the U.S. viewed, and referred to itself, as the “leader of the free world.” This formulation was far more empowering than simply being one of two superpowers vying for world domination. The U.S. sought to present its leadership role as being in the name of freedom, rather than just the U.S. Since the Cold War, this frame has been a problem for the U.S. because rather than being empowering, it forced the U.S. to take on more responsibilities around the world.
This tsunami is also illustrative of the unique position in which the U.S. still finds itself in this increasingly multi-polar world, and a reminder that in some important ways the U.S. remains the world’s only true superpower. One way to see this is that the U.S. is the only country that is going to be heavily involved, financially and otherwise, in addressing the two biggest global developments this year, the tsunami and the rapidly changing the Middle East. China, for example, may play a role in helping Japan, but will not be investing any resources in trying to make a smooth transition in the new Middle East. Several European countries will come to Japan’s assistance, but not to the extent that the U.S. will.
The first few months of 2011 have been a good reminder of the role of uncertainty in international politics and foreign policy. The overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, possible ouster of Moammar Gaddafi in Libya as well as widespread demonstrations in Bahrain, Tunisia, where this all started, Moroccoand elsewhere in the Middle East will likely be among the biggest issues and challenges facing American policy makers for quite a while, and will almost certainly dominate foreign policy questions for the duration of Barack Obama’s time as president.
These developments could have a dramatic effect on global politics, changing political alliances, alignments and regimes throughout the Middle East. A democratic wave, anti-American backlash, strengthened Islamist movement presence, consolidation by new secular authoritarian governments or numerous different combinations of these possibilities are all potential outcomes in Tunisia, Egypt and perhaps elsewhere. At any time, these developments would raise an extraordinary challenge for U.S. policy makers eager to ensure American interests are defended and that human rights and democracy are expanded. The U.S. would also be preparing to become involved in the evolution of new political systems and structures in each of these countries offering money, resources, and expertise. Not surprisingly, these sentiments have been reflected, almost implicit, in much of what the Obama administration has said about these events thus far.
Much of what Democrats and progressives hate most about the Republican Party, including the class warfare that has shifted enormous amounts of wealth to the rich while economic conditions have gotten worse for most Americans, radical social conservatism and enormous defense budgets that both create massive debt problems and ensure an aggressive and often disastrous US foreign policy, have their origins in the Reagan years. However, Democrats understand that Reagan's enduring popularity means that Reagan can never be criticized and that the rather obvious point that the roots of many of today's problems lie in the Reagan presidency cannot be mentioned, without incurring significant political consequences.
China is clearly an economic power which can become the world’s major power if the U.S. continues to make mistakes and if China avoids some major economic, political and environmental crises that are on its own horizon. However, China’s rise to global supremacy is hardly an inevitability and should not be seen as one. For the U.S., therefore, it is important both not to underestimate China’s potential, but also not to overestimate it either. Recent media coverage of China seems to have clearly veered towards the latter mistake.
Richard Holbrooke’s death this week at the age of 69 brings to a close one of the most extraordinary diplomatic careers in American history. Holbrooke’s career began in 1962 and continued until his death. During these years, not only did Holbrooke work for every Democratic president from Kennedy to Obama, but he was involved in one way or another with many of the most important foreign policy issues facing the U.S. including the war in Vietnam, the reunification of Germany, the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and the war in Afghanistan, during a career of nearly fifty years.
For many years the notion that partisan politics ended at America’s shores contained a smattering of accuracy with a healthy overlay of propaganda. There have been too many exceptions over history for that phrase to contain more than a kernel of truth. Partisan disputes about entrance into World War II, Cold War strategy and the Vietnam War were just some of the times that the American political leadership was divided on key foreign policy questions during the time when this framework was allegedly at its strongest. Since the Vietnam War era, disputes over foreign policy from Central America to the Middle East have been a constant presence in our political life.
It is difficult to open a newspaper or peruse the internet without reading about America’s declining power around the globe. These stories which never really go away but seem to have increased in the last few years almost invariably focus on America’s reduced economic power as well as the rise of other powerful countries or blocks, most prominently China, but also India, Russia, Brazil and even Europe.
There is, however, at the grassroots level strong sympathy, albeit rooted in different worldviews, from both the left and the right for the notion that perhaps the U.S. does not need to be involved in every corner of the world. On the left this grows out anti-war sentiments and a belief that other countries should be left alone. From the right, isolationism grows out of a belief in smaller government and a sense that the government should not spend American tax dollars trying to solve other people’s problems. Both sides, as well as many centrists would also add that our government should focus more attention at home and that in the current fiscal environment the U.S. cannot afford such a broad internationalist approach to the world. These views may have varying degrees of accuracy, but they represent substantial portions of the electorate.
Thomson’s death feels like the passing of an era that actually ended decades ago. The home run occurred when baseball was played in black and white, New York had three teams, and a radio broadcast of a ballgame to a soldier in Asia was considered an impressive technological feat. The home run belongs to a time, city, and even country of the long ago past, but somehow it can still make a young father feel compelled to share the event, which occurred years before he was born, with his young son and an make an aging veteran still feel his monthly paycheck slipping away just as Thomson’s fly ball slipped over the left field fence and into history.
Although Clinton’s comments undoubtedly have pleased many in the U.S. and abroad who are concerned with human rights, it remains true that for many years, statements like Clinton’s on Vietnam have provoked charges of hypocrisy from some quarters aimed at the U.S. During the Cold War, most notably, the U.S. styled itself as the defender of liberty and freedom around the world while supporting right wing dictatorships in many corners of the world which were far from free or democratic. Today, this description remains at least somewhat accurate. The U.S. continues to present itself as the global advocate for freedom and democracy while looking away from human rights violations that occur in countries on whose assistance we depend for fighting terrorism or the war in Afghanistan.
To some extent this is inevitable in an age when the biggest security threats to the U.S. come from terrorist networks with global reach and where climate change and economic crises affect all parts of the world. Nonetheless, the extent of U.S. commitment everywhere, which was once a sign of the American ascendancy, now bears many signs of being part of America’s decline. This will likely become more apparent and problematic if the economy does not recover. As local and national governments are stressed and basic domestic needs become more and more difficult for governments to afford, it is likely that voices calling for a more modest foreign policy with fewer commitments abroad will be stronger, but policy makers will find it very difficult to turn that aspiration into reality.
Rendell's decision to make these comments now, at a time when the sitting Democratic president is attacked almost daily as a socialist, might seem strange, but it is not. President Obama, like every Democratic president, has veered to the center and upset the party's progressive base, so in that regard Rendell's comments are not entirely apropos of nothing. Rendell, however, is something of a strange messenger for this sentiment. As a governor and former chair of the DNC, Rendell is, as much as anybody, a Democratic Party insider, not a firebrand outsider trying to shake up the party. If Rendell really believed that the party was losing its soul, he might have said or done something about it at some point in the last several years.
The reality that these types of programs have rarely had a significant impact on resolving territorial disputes has not appeared to daunt proponents of the shared economic venture as path to peace approach. These programs have generally had a marginal effect as conflicts have either endured in spite of these programs, or more frequently these programs have failed to get off the ground because the conflict and rancor between the groups. It is clear that, for example, joint Palestinian-Israeli tourism ventures could generate needed income, or cooperation liberalized trade zones involving Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh would help the economy of the South Caucasus, but even though the west supports programs to do these types of things, the underlying problems are more enduring. The China-Taiwan case is an interesting example of a conflict where trade has expanded substantially in recent years, but the tensions between the two polities remains quite strong with both sides retaining strong militaries and the threat of war breaking out no less significant, despite the economic ties