Leadership and United States Foreign Policy in the 21st Century
Barack Obama faces a particularly troubled world and a different America. Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, Cuba. Climate change, poverty, and energy. The economic crisis, the boredom of the middle class, and health reform. Immigration, NAFTA, and the renegotiation of trade agreements. Diplomacy vs. force. International terrorism. The list of problems and challenges goes on and on. Obama must transform his message of hope (We can change) into an action plan, explaining how he will face these challenges in the new multipolar world of the 21st century.
(From Madrid) I AM COMPLETELY CONFIDENT that for generations, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment in which we restored our image as the last and best hope for this world.
This could be a quotation from any of the great presidents of the United States in the 20th century, but it is part of a speech given on June 3rd in St. Paul, Minnesota by Barack Obama, after he was chosen by the Democratic Party for the race toward the White House.
In that long-awaited moment of victory, the Illinois Senator’s voice never trembled as he spoke to the many who have supported him over these long months. However, now, before a diverse and perhaps partially hostile society and a Republican rival who has shown himself committed to victory, Obama needs to transform his message of hope and change into a plan of action, showing us how he will do what he plans to do.
CHANGE HAS BEGUN
The change in the African-American senator’s speech can already be noticed. It started when Obama shook the hand of Hillary Clinton, whose help and support he will need to unite the millions of Democrats who think experience in managing an active multilateralism is needed to break the deadlock in domestic and foreign policy that has overwhelmed United States politics in the last several years.
“To change America and the world at the same time has been a common dream of presidents of the United States, but few have achieved it” The battle for the presidency has begun. The senator, denying the validity of John McCain’s proposals for a Republican renovation of the White House, has reaffirmed his idea for change, though now in more pragmatic terms. There must be a withdrawal from Iraq, but we must be mindful of how that is to be accomplished and the consequences that it will bring. We must talk with Iran, but with firmness and resolve. Israel is our ally, and within the powerful AIPAC lobby, Jerusalem is its capital.
The Democratic candidate understands that the change in image and policy, the jump from war to diplomacy that he has proposed with such resolve, cannot in any circumstances be accomplished through weakness or indecision. When Carter was anchored in the ideals of the 1976 electoral campaign and attempted to rid the U.S. of its fiery jingoism and paranoid anti-communism, he finished his presidency humiliated by the Iranian fundamentalist revolution and the Soviet government. And years before, between the Bay of Pigs and Kruschev’s missiles, Kennedy almost saw a nuclear war erupt. This came just a few months after his emotional inauguration in which he asked citizens for a greater commitment to country and freedom.
THE WORLD IS NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE
Barack Obama faces a particularly troubled world and a different America. Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, Cuba. Climate change, poverty, and energy. The economic crisis, the boredom of the middle class, and health reform. Immigration, NAFTA, and the renegotiation of trade agreements. Diplomacy vs. force. International terrorism. The list of problems and challenges goes on and on.
Each one of these issues that worry Americans, their allies, and international politics were changed during that magic moment in St. Paul into the questions that will place the senator in charge of the podiums from which he has captivated millions of people throughout the entire world, but only half of voters.
“Obama should understand that one cannot build a strong and comprehensive foreign policy without the support of the many countries and alliances that would contribute to the regaining of multilateralism” To change America and the world at the same time has been a common dream of presidents of the United States, but few have achieved it.
Roosevelt caught American society when it fell into the depression of the 1930’s, but he did not have the ability to contain the spread of totalitarianism in Europe. Truman and Eisenhower launched the domestic finance machine and the international economy, but failed to stop the arms race that built up the nuclear arsenals of both the Americans and the communists and led to nuclear proliferation in China, France, and Great Britain. Johnson built the Great Society of the ‘60’s based on civil rights, but built and maintained an aggressive and uncontrolled foreign policy in Vietnam and the Far East.
Obama should understand that one cannot build a strong and comprehensive foreign policy without the support of the many countries and alliances that would contribute to the regaining of multilateralism, an issue on which the senator has not been very vocal.
MINOR SOFT POWER
Joseph Nye, a professor of international studies, was in Spain last May attending a seminar on U.S. foreign policy organized by the Royal Elcano Institute and the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a moderate think tank. Nye, a fervent supported of Obama, some years ago created the idea of soft power through which the United States could attract both its allies and rivals instead of always imposing political and military force.
“In the next presidential term, the superpower will exercise its power in an international society in which America and the world have been separated” Perhaps today, in the global world that Nye described before globalization was ever really born, the U.S. does not have the same power to attract. International power has been fragmented; economic and political dynamics have forged new powers.
Europe is growing weaker, and China, stronger. Russia is developing and cleaning up its image. Brazil and India have cleared their debts. The world today is not what it once was.
The Democrats have shown that the evangelical America that had manufactured the Bush Administration was not like this, while the political gospel proposed by Obama has been met with applause and has won the hearts of millions of American that have spoken with one voice, yes we can.
But in the next presidential term, the superpower will exercise its power in an international society in which America and the world have been separated. The United States may no longer be the last and best hope for the many citizens of the world, although it remains so, more than ever, for many citizens of Minnesota.