Monday, September 10, 2012

Redefining U.S. Foreign Policy

“Sometimes to understand where you are, you need to ransack the past,” says Tom Engelhardt, acclaimed author and Fellow of the Nation Institute, where he runs a news commentary website called

America’s role in the global community is a double-edged sword. The United States has had a hand in so many different countries, whether with an open palm to provide aid or a clenched fist to proclaim war—or a dangerous combination of both, that it is hard to determine all the costs of our dominance abroad.

What we do know is that with continually shifting international trends comes the need for a redefinition of American foreign policy. Previously, “waves of democratization and sectarian strife across Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Africa” at the end of the Cold War pushed America—as the reigning superpower—to the fore in an “experimental era of international peacekeeping,” said a recent GulfNews article. Later, 9/11 encouraged another shift in diplomatic strategy towards combating international terrorism. The destabilization of some regions of the world with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction also forced us to become more aware of our international adversaries, strengthening our desire to control and influence exterior forces.

In a thorough article that he wrote for Tomdispatch, Engelhardt explains his personal viewpoint on the troubles America faces with national defense now. Recalling the language of emperors of the Hellenic past, Engelhardt describes the recent international counterinsurgency regimes under Bush/Cheney and Obama as attempts to impose a Pax Americana on the world through dominion overseas, in nations like Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

Engelhardt counts these as the components and effects of the Pax Americana:
•    A commander-in-chief with almost unlimited control over domestic defense policy (even at the expense of the American people and the welfare of foreign civilians)
•    Cooling of international relations in response to America’s global peacekeeping attempts
•    Expansion of covert ops--Special forces can be sent wherever the president wants and whenever the president wants; Expanding use of drone air forces against foreign nations can be lethal, given their destructive effect and the president’s extensive power to launch them
•    Expense of millions of dollars to national defense, while other sectors like education are being cut in the national budget
•    Growing detachment of American people to wars and operations launched on America’s behalf

Today, in response to these controversial defense tactics and criticism over continual global peacekeeping efforts, in what ways could we reform our foreign policy? How do we respond to pertinent international trends like the Arab Spring (particularly the continuing crackdowns in Syria), the collapse of the Euro, and the emergence of Africa as a strong trading partner? Can our new president redefine our international policy to adapt to these changes?

According to political reporter Kurt Shillinger, “an abiding feature of foreign policy is continuity from one president to the next,” so he said that though Romney’s plan of action was uncertain, Obama would likely deliver a fairly straightforward plank building on nuclear containment in Iran and North Korea, encouraging continued reforms in budding democracies like Myanmar, continual combat of Al Qaeda members, and strengthening economic partnerships with  the big players on the Pacific Rim.
    The key to asserting influence abroad, though, he said, would be determined by whether the incoming president could find a healthy balance between the rising U.S. debt and the cost of infrastructure and education, with the presidential debates in October providing “the last big opportunity for candidates to address these issues.”
To discuss what global security means in the 21st century and possible solutions to our global relations issues, come out to the Russell Library’s national security forum, “America’s Role in the World,” on Tuesday, September 11. 

Post by Lori Keong, Student Worker/Blogger, Russell Library

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