Maintaining the strategy of containment and the leadership that is waiting on us
The United States (and a large part of the world) has not been able to offer new mentalities, revitalized methods, nor new ways of approaching the most urgent global problems. The author explains that real change, that Yes we can for the international system as well, will only be possible if Barack Obama wins the presidency of our global village in November.
(From Madrid) THE WAGERS, ECONOMIC ONES INCLUDED, regarding the final result of the presidential elections in the United States to decide who will be the White House’s next tenant, have cropped up outside of the predictable political and journalist environment. The more motivated students are gathering together and creating forums, while the neighbors and the family exchange offerings and food –on the final result’s tab– in the hopes that they will win big time.
“There are many voices calling for urgent change in the great superpower’s relationship with the rest of the world” Behind this entertaining and very American movie of political show business, in which McCain could be portrayed by Steve Martin, Obama by Denzel Washington and the bright figure of Sarah Palin by a modest Angelina Jolie (the conservative mother turned into the Lara Croft of politics), behind all of this set design, the viewer knows that, as in so many films with an uncertain end and apocalyptic overtones, what is at stake is the future of the world.
These USA ´08 Elections are probably the first truly global elections of our era; they are a consultative process in which a large part of those affected –and directly invited– worldwide, are able to attend the show, but cannot touch…excuse me, I meant to say that they cannot vote (only one exception: they are able to vote on our Safe Democracy web page).
DOES IT MATTER?
Underneath the showiness of the Democratic Convention in Denver, Colorado and the Republican Convention in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and after what is going to be a tooth and nail presidential race in the month of November, the critical topic of current reflection, which is being pondered by not only our diplomatic academies, but also by international society as a whole, is that which refers to the continuation and change of American foreign policy. “A McCain victory means only small transformations in the Bush Doctrine (of Preventative Security) practiced by the outgoing administration, and endorsed by neo-conservative thought” If a conclusion to this varied and broad global debate (which is also present in a significant part of the United States) had to be drawn ahead of time, it would be that there are many voices calling for urgent change in the great superpower’s relationship with the rest of the world.
As if it weren’t much, the economic King Kong of the West is trembling amidst the chaos on Wall Street that ensued when the twin towers of the financial empire, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, fell –also in September–, destroyed by the sub-prime mortgage crisis that had made the delights of an economic system convinced that brick and real estate speculation were the Anne between the fingers of that gorilla, which is represented by the quick and easy wealth of the typical financial institutions. A true Manhattan, also for the irregular economic resources present in the market looking for their laundered normalization.
In this electoral scenario, and within the biggest economic and financial crisis of the century, there are still opinions expressed through distinct American and European media that do not want us to let ourselves dream of change in the United States and the international system. It seems incredible that it is this very change that is the big star of the campaigns of both candidates.
In order to extinguish our particular dream (I have a dream), they are predicting a certain disappointment, no matter who wins, be it the Republicans or the Democrats: it doesn’t matter if it is a white president with a young, female vice-president, or a black president with a vice-president not quite as young. It is very probable that, as the ominous omens predict, we dreamers can only expect small changes in how the United States is linked with the rest of the world; however, when these trivial changes affect the only universal catcher in the rye, they greatly transform all of the planet’s scenarios. And when it comes to this task, I am afraid; we are all in it together.
ANOTHER STEP TOWARDS MILITARIZATION?
A McCain victory means only small transformations in the Bush Doctrine (of Preventative Security) practiced by the outgoing administration, and endorsed by neo-conservative thought. Even so, after the admitted failures in Afghanistan and Iraq and the return to that so called Vietnam Syndrome that society and the average American appeared to have overcome, even a Republican administration with old doctrine wrapped up in a new discourse would have to introduce substantial changes with respect to military containment and the revitalization of diplomatic instruments. “Republican thought in its various forms is incapable of introducing the necessary changes to lead the United States to find a new, less aggressive leadership”
However, foreign policy can be corrected during a given moment; McCain will inevitably have to do so if he wins the presidency, but is that going to entail a change in the Bush Doctrine? Improvised change of a Doctrine, like the one that the current administration has planted in the middle class and a large part of the economic political elite in the country, would be difficult, because the consolidation of the new Doctrine –with capital letters– entails a statement from the leadership, starting with a widely shared internal interpretation of national interests upon which everything else hinges: internal party consensus, foreign policy, security policy, defense policy, diplomatic instruments, and even the predominant mentalities in the nation. It would be very difficult to modify all of this as a whole, if one were to improvise with the course of international events.
“The preventative leadership of these past eight years has permeated deeply into the national sentiment of the Republicans” Republican thought in its various forms, even after the failure in Afghanistan and Iraq, is incapable of introducing the necessary changes to lead the United States to find a new, less aggressive, unilateral and militaristic leadership in the international system. With only subtle differences in comparison to Bush, McCain could mean another step towards militarization of the international system.
As a great deal of the leaders of the elephant party, including the Republican candidate and his brilliant vice-president, point out after judging the results of the war in Iraq to be positive: We have an excellent historic opportunity to rise from the ashes that, after the fall of the Soviet Union, led the United States to roam the international scene with Hamletian doubts of its world leadership, in order to return to the roots of the great American Republic, a doctrine for the XXI century: the United States’ practice in the era of globalization and also the dominant international theory in this period of multilateral hegemony. The preventative leadership of these past eight years has permeated deeply into the national sentiment –nationalistic, as the conservative Republican Hans Kohn would point out– of the Republicans and conservative thought.
ANOTHER PRISONER OF THE SELFISH ELITE?
It is not an easy question in the democratic camp either, because history has demonstrated the great distance that exists between electoral promises and hopes aroused, and the harsh reality of power in Washington, idealism as opposed to the establishment’s realism. “If Barack Obama gains power, the selfish elite is going to keep him prisoner, is quite an assumption” For example, the international incongruence of a president, like Wilson, the symbol of peace in Europe, and Wilson, the interventionist in Central America or the large gap between Kennedy’s electoral idea of a new commitment to humanity –the New Frontier in international affairs– and the raw reality of The Bay of Pigs and the beginning of the Vietnam War. And the difference between Clinton the candidate’s fast route to the solution for international conflicts and the second level of foreign policy during the first months of his presidency –with the impending war in the former Yugoslavia– in order to then return to a continuation of the former Republican management.
“The United States must regain its moral leadership in the world, lost after September 11, 2001, especially due to the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq” As the famous and elderly economist J.K Galbraith said in The Washington Post at the time: The selfish elite, close-minded and satisfied, are keeping the president prisoner. To consider it a categorical fact that, if Barack Obama gains power, that selfish elite is going to keep him prisoner too, is quite an assumption. There are many people in the world that have had a dream and have hoped that it becomes a reality when they listen to the democratic candidate speak about the need for a new political pact between the United States and the world. And this hope stems from his consistency in maintaining positions that, like his opposition to the military occupation in Iraq, were not the most common among Democrats –and you only need to look at what prominent personalities of the dimwit party, like Hillary Clinton and even the current vice presidential candidate, Joe Biden, said and voted for– nor in the American society as a whole, of which, at the time, only a minority rejected.
AMERICAN DIPLOMACY AND LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
The United States must regain its moral leadership in the world, lost after September 11, 2001, especially due to the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. From the fear that they have instilled and continue to instill in the international society –even in their closest European allies– must emerge a friendlier face to confront the collective security risks. “American foreign policy must give priority to classic diplomatic instruments and reinvent new negotiation tools, taking advantage of former dynamics”
It is true that the United States has historically always believed in its abilities and the goodness of its ideals, but in this global era it will have to learn to use more finesse when handling the multilateral framework. For starters, as Zbigniew Brzezinski points out when he speaks about alliances, one cannot provoke divisions within his own family, which is what came to happen with Iraq, with the level of opposition and the wounds that this illegal international act caused among the allied Europeans.
American foreign policy must give priority to classic diplomatic instruments and reinvent new negotiation tools, even taking advantage of former dynamics that have been forgotten or abandoned. One of the conclusions that American diplomacy must come to is that, given the failure of its use of military force in Afghanistan and Iraq, the only efficient way to combat Islamic terrorism is to eliminate its breeding grounds, where recruitment for the radical terrorist groups is growing. “The United States has the obligation to bring about profound change in confidence with its European allies, which will in turn provoke change in the hierarchy of the principal points of the Transatlantic Agenda” The conflict in the Middle East could serve as a very important example: peace will not exist in the hearts of Arabs as long as the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli dispute is not solved. And it will not be solved until the United States, with a revitalized strength –one that goes beyond Bush’s tentative attempts during the last few months– assumes a different leadership role in this process.
The doubts surrounding the counterweight that the European Union must exert against the United States remain clear, not only due to internal difficulties and divisions (following the Irish no to the Treaty of Lisbon, it is in limbo), but also after assessing its inexistent leadership regarding the debates concerning the reconstruction of Iraq, and its even more limited role in the reform of the Atlantic Alliance, and its disappearance from the Middle East peace process negotiating table. Even with all of this, the United States has the obligation in the future to bring about profound change, in both tone and confidence, with its European allies, which will in turn provoke change in the hierarchy within the principal points of the Transatlantic Agenda. The first change should be to find a new institutionalized framework for a relationship with Russia, granting it a position that is fitting for the great country that it is. The safety line strategy and its isolation from NATO, together with the installation of distinct umbrella defense systems, can, as it always has historically, have disastrous consequences for the future of our continent and the international system.
A FUTURE MARKED BY CONTAINMENT
Another complicated situation is the one affecting the United Nations and its future responsibilities in the international system with a new administration in the United States. The standout leadership that it acquired before and during Iraq, and the leadership that it will display afterwards, is conducive to an inevitable central role, one that finds itself directly subordinate to the organization’s greater or lesser degree of resistance to the Bush Doctrine. “Real change, that “YES WE CAN” for the international system as well, will only be possible if Barack Obama wins the presidency of this global village in November”
The United States, Democrats and Republicans alike, have always had this important vision of international organizations when it comes to carrying out its foreign objectives in these multilateral forums, organizations and resolutions that, whatever their political and military benefit might be, are considered to be far removed from the American sentiment.
Even with all of this, the international system requires the leadership of one of those few organizations that, like the United Nations, with all its imperfections and with its own reform and financing in jeopardy, allow a diversification, not decisive but yes significant, of the international system’s dependency on the diplomatic and military objectives of the United States.
To sum up, it could be pointed out that, after the failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, the future relationship between the United States and the international system depends, to a great degree, on the maintaining or not of the classic strategy of containment of specific problems and concrete geographic regions, a policy of containment that swings back and forth, according to the current situation: communism, exacerbated nationalism, drug trafficking, radical Islamism, international terrorism, et cetera.
All of these problems pose grave risks for the international system that we need to confront, but the United States, and to a large degree the international system, has not been able to offer new mentalities, revitalized methods, and new ways of approaching the most urgent global problems. Many of us believe that real change, that YES WE CAN for the international system as well, will only be possible if Barack Obama wins the presidency of this global village in November.
- The Multipolar World of Barack Obama
por José María Peredo Pombo