On January 20th, 2009 America’s new President will face a new era of foreign policy with challenges and options different than those faced by prior administrations. Many of these new challenges have been brewing for decades, but most were created or exacerbated by mistakes made since the turn of the century.
When I first moved to England in October 2000, I would get some good natured ribbing about how we were “Late for the War,” or “McDonald’s and Disney imperialism.” There were frustrations about how we conducted ourselves internationally, but overall people were favorably inclined towards America. Many still felt that they owed America a debt of gratitude for the actions of our Greatest Generation in WWII.
When Bush tried to trade on that debt in the run up to the Iraq war, the goodwill that so many American’s had earned with their bravery and their deaths in foreign lands had been exhausted. As had the empathy that much of the world, including the much vilified French, felt towards us after the tragedy on September 11. America had too often taken our friends and allies for granted and abused the good will they had extended to us for a generation.
For much of the past 50 years, our nation has received the benefit of the doubt over many of our questionable foreign policies. Most people around the free world believed, with justification, that even when we made mistakes our intentions were good. Our invasion of Iraq and the way we treated our allies as we attempted to gain their support was a shock to the world, it forced many overseas to reevaluate our past actions through a new lens. Many of our actions for which they had grudgingly forgiven us in light of the Greatest Generation’s sacrifice, now appeared to be a series of egregious overreaching after our blatant aggression in the second invasion of Iraq.
That invasion cannot be viewed as an isolated incident, it is but the most outrageous in a series of arrogant dismissals of the needs and concerns of the world community. Our rejection of the Kyoto Accords under both Clinton and G.W. Bush shows both a shortsightedness and callous disregard for the impact of our actions of foreign nations. Much worse are the many times we have supported dictatorships, weakened democracies, or attempted to assassinate foreign leaders. Previously actions like the war in El Salvador and our support of dictatorships in Spain and Greece were seen as exceptions to our general benevolence, now they are seen as evidence of our essential character. Our rhetoric of supporting freedom while suppressing the thirst of foreign citizens for such freedom is wearing thin.
In this increasingly globalized world, the opinions and attitudes of foreign nations will dramatically affect America’s ability to project power throughout the globe. Many of our corporations depend upon the global strength of brand America for their international sales. Our economy and the solvency of our government currently depends upon the willingness of foreign governments and citizens to purchase our treasury bonds. We will continue to desire the assistance of other nations in international projects, but we cannot afford to gain that assistance by issuing bribes and threats for cooperation as we did in an attempt to gain the cooperation of Turkey and other members of the coalition of the willing. Such cooperation was often limited by nations population being unwilling to support their government in its support of our policies.
If American wants to maintain its position of influence over world affairs, and the privileges which that influence brings, we need to dramatically change our approach to foreign policy. As popular as Clinton is overseas, a return to 90’s style diplomacy in a post 3/20/2003 world will not be enough. A clear rejection of the Bush Doctrine of Preemptive Strike and a return to coalition building is certainly a good start but we need to go beyond that. We can no longer expect to world to accept that our intentions are in good when they see negative consequences of our actions.
We can no longer use our military might to protect our access to resources such as oil without expecting repercussions in the form international anger and angst which expresses itself as protests, or much worse, terror. We cannot continue to negotiate trade agreements which favor our corporate interests and neglect the rights of workers abroad and needs of workers at home. As we select a new face to govern America, we must also choose a leader who is able to reevaluate America’s approach to foreign affairs and establish a new doctrine of policies which can carry us forward, repairing the damage from our mistakes and building a strong foundation for our relationships with nations around the globe.