Two other issues have moved to the forefront of Georgian politics in the absence of a heated election campaign. These are the question of whether or not the Georgian Dream coalition will hold together, and what the impact on Georgian politics will be if Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili steps down shortly after the election, as he has indicated he will do? The general feeling with regards to these questions is that both of these possibilities would threaten the democratic advances Georgia has enjoyed over the last year or so.
The recent election in Kyrgyzstan presents somewhat of a Rorschach test to observers of political development in Central Asia and democracy generally. The election of Almaz Atanbaev as Kyrgyzstan’s president is another chapter in the country’s political evolution and, not insignificantly, the first peaceful of transfer of power since Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet Union. This election was probably the best in recent Kyrgyz history and perhaps the best ever in post-Soviet Central Asia. For these reasons, it is possible to view democracy as moving forward in Kyrgyzstan, which may perhaps have an effect on the region more broadly.
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.
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.
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.
Whether or not the article is right or wrong about Yemen is of secondary import. The more important issue is that there almost certainly will be another Afghanistan somewhere in the world. There are too many failing states with an Islamist presence, in which Al Qaeda could operate, for this not to be the case. This reality demonstrates the poor logic of the continued U.S. effort in Afghanistan. For the most part opposition to the war in Afghanistan has argued that the U.S. cannot achieve its goals there or that the cost of achieving those goals is too high. The New York Times article raises a different, but probably more important point-even on the off-chance that U.S. goals are achieved in Afghanistan, it won’t really matter because the terrorists will move somewhere else, most likely Yemen.
During the next ten years, the U.S. will confront a broad range of policy challenges. Some will likely be largely unchanged over the course of the decade. Others, like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the fight against terrorism will probably remain important issues but will change and evolve during the decade. There are some issues, however, which seem somewhat remote today, but which may dominate headlines by the year 2020. We cannot, of course, know for certain what these issues are, but the five issues below all may become very important by 2020.
The Cold War was the organizing principle of American foreign policy, and had a strong influence on domestic policy as well, for almost half a century. Today, less than two decades after its end, the Cold War is poorly remembered. The equivalence which some have suggested between the threat of Jihadist terror and that represented by the USSR, and the almost ubiquitous comparisons between Saddam Hussein and Stalin from those trying to drum up support for the Iraq war are just some examples of this. These comparisons are not so much wildly inaccurate, Jihadist terror represents a real threat to the U.S., and Hussein was much worse than your garden variety dictator, but they betray an intellectual laziness and failure to understand the true nature, and, for quite a long time, power of the Soviet regime.
And yet Obama has already shown in his presidency that his views on Afghanistan are more than just a campaign tactic. The easy thing for Obama would have been to lump Afghanistan in with Iraq as failed Bush policies and instead begin a slow–some might say too slow–pullback of troops in Afghanistan, similar to that in Iraq. And yet it seems that Obama’s assessment of national security concerns made this option less appealing. Obama’s reward for this approach is that Afghanistan may do for Obama what Iraq did for Bush, what Vietnam did for Johnson, what Afghanistan itself did for the Soviet Union, or whatever other analogy you like.
To some extent the Republicans electoral woes can be attributed to an unpopular president winding down his second term while the country is mired in an unpopular war and the economy is struggling. More thoughtful Republicans, however, may begin to realize that something larger than this is going on. In recent decades, the Republican coalition has rested on three core groups: social conservatives, foreign policy hawks, and small government/anti-tax voters. Although this coalition was first forged by Richard Nixon in 1968, it could more accurately be described as the Reagan coalition because nobody held it together as well as Reagan. Through his hawkish views on the Soviet Union, anti-tax rhetoric and conservative social views, Reagan was able to get elected president relatively easily two times. Moreover, he seemed to effortlessly balance the needs of these three often conflicting constituencies. Wealthy voters who were not social conservatives seemed unconvinced that he was really a social conservative, while social conservatives did not seem to mind that he prioritized tax cuts and building up the military over their goals.