Meet the New US Foreign Policiy – Same as the Old US Foreign Policy

“Whomever US citizens may choose: Europeans will wake up next year on a cold January morning – and find before them a government whose foreign policy decisions, although presented in new clothes, will appear almost like those customary to Bush.” That is the conclusion German-language readers of Spiegel Online get to digest today, in an article entitled Bush Leaves – His Foreign Policy Stays.

Crucially, though, take a look at who is the author: it is a certain Peter Ross Range, whose credentials are given in a short sidebar on the article’s first page: long-time Time magazine foreign correspondent, then editor-in-chief of Blueprint, the magazine of the Democratic Leadership Council – in short, in all probability an American. That means this article is intended to be a warning from the west side of the Atlantic to the east, not to expect much to change in US policy with the next administration.

Range concedes at an early stage that, for many among his target audience, “[i]t is not so important who moves in; the main thing is that Bush will be moving out,” and of course he is quite correct. The description he uses for Bush as the “horrible nightmare [Schreckgespenst] of the past eight years” may be his very own, but it is easy to pick up not-so-subtle clues that the Spiegel-Online editors are very ready to agree with him – like the timer over on the right side of the webpage, superimposed on a head-shot photo of a waving, smirking George W. Bush, which counts down the remaining time of the Bush administration to the second!

Fine, but enough of that: will there really be little difference in January 2009 between the incoming and outgoing administrations as far as the Europeans are concerned when it comes to policy? Take the two salient components of that policy, “salient” because they involve American forces killing and dying. While McCain seems determined to stay in Iraq until the bitter end, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama indicate they will withdraw US troops. But Range is of the view that, no matter what any new Democratic president may want, actually carrying out any meaningful withdrawals out of the country – presumably against the recommendation of America’s new military hero, Gen. David Petraeus, and with the real risk of leaving behind a MidEast in chaos – will be impossible. As for Afghanistan, the three candidates are in lock-step: the West must intensify its efforts to stabilize that country. In fact, a new administration – from whichever side of the aisle – will likely mean greater pressure on America’s NATO allies to contribute men, finance, and materiel to that effort than is forthcoming now.

Consensus Among the Three

Moving on to other policy areas, Europeans can be pleased that all three remaining “serious” presidential candidates are much readier to take seriously the threat of global warming and the necessity to start doing something about it on a global scale – not that that means that the US will confess the error of its ways and petition for permission to join in the Kyoto Protocol. All three have also recognized that their first job upon assuming office in the foreign policy area will simply to be to rebuild America’s world reputation from the depths to which it has fallen.

Then again, McCain, Clinton, and Obama have all expressed support for a strengthened American military, as well as a determination to intervene with it wherever necessary. As for Range – and here one must remind oneself that he is American, although obviously well-read and widely-traveled – he can distinctly hear behind such pronouncements, whether uttered by Clinton or Obama, the clatter of sabres being rattled. And come to think on it, you can begin to appreciate his point when you recall such incidents – which he goes on to mention here – as Barack Obama’s notorious determination last summer to send US troops into Pakistan to pursue Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, if he concluded that the Pakistani authorities themselves were not willing to do the job.

Now, as Range also concedes, so far in the primary season the debates have mostly revolved around domestic, not foreign, policy. But that will certainly change once both parties have picked their candidate, all the more so because John McCain quite rightly will want to pull the discussion over into questions of security and foreign policy where he his credentials and expertise are relatively stronger. It won’t be long, in other words, before the conclusions Range makes here will be put to the test.

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