Tag Archives: presidential election

The (New?) Obama Foreign Policy

President Obama's 2012 Acceptance Speech

President Obama’s 2012 Acceptance Speech

Now that the US presidential election is behind us, several bloggers have turned to ask, “What’s next for US foreign policy?” It’s a fair question, particularly given how little attention was paid to foreign policy during the presidential campaigns.

Bloggers from across the internet have offered their take. Examples include Mark Goldberg, who blogs at the UN Dispatch, and David Bosco at the Multilateralist.

To be clear, several key questions about President Obama’s second-term foreign policy remain outstanding. These include:

  1. Who will serve as Secretary of State? By all accounts, Hillary Clinton has done an outstanding job as Secretary of State. But she has made her intention to step down clear. Some have cited John Kerry, who currently serves as the Foreign Relations Committee Chair in the US Senate as a possible successor, but to date President Obama has not been particularly forthcoming about his intentions.
  2. How will the Arab-Israeli peace process move forward? It was clear during the election that there was no love lost between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s also painfully obvious that there has been little progress in addressing the issue during Obama’s first term. Yet historically presidents have often pivoted to foreign policy during their second terms, seeking to establish a lasting presidential legacy. Making significant progress on the Palestinian question would certainly do that. But it’s not clear how Obama might do that.
  3. Will our political leaders start talking about climate change? Both presidential campaigns were remarkably silent on the question of climate change, particularly given the entrée to discuss the question provided by the impact of Sandy on the US Northeast. The marginal shift towards the democrats in the Senate provides reason to hope that climate change may at least make it back on to the national agenda.
  4. What to do about Iran? Iran’s nuclear ambitions didn’t disappear. In fact, it seems likely that Iran’s path to progress in nuclear technology is moving forward, and many observers believe Iran will acquire develop a nuclear weapon within the next four years. Sanctions have been effective in isolating the country and severely weakening its economy. But will the Obama administration support the more aggressive action so strongly favored by Netanyahu? And what would the impact of such action be across the region?
  5. Will there be any change to our Pakistan policy? Drone strikes are highly unpopular in Pakistan but remain an effective way of weakening the strength of militant Islamic groups in the Waziristan region.
  6. How will we respond to developments associated with the Arab Spring? It’s now been two years since the Arab Spring started, bring massive change to the Arab world. Longstanding dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen fell. Protest movements emerged in countries from Algeria to Kuwait. The ongoing crisis in Syria remains a key contemporary challenge. And, of course, the tragedy in Benghazi rocked the foreign policy establishment. There are many outstanding questions, but perhaps none is more profound that whether or not democratization in the Arab world will result in increasing radicalization or moderation.
  7. Will the Global Economic Crisis come to a close or continue to drag on? The economic crisis in Greece appears to be continuing, and the European Union is cutting economic forecasts. The US economy appears to be headed towards an exceedingly slow economic recovery which, while better than continued economic depression, does little to improve the outlook or give reason for heady optimism. How will the global economy affect US foreign policy? Can the United States work with its (economic) allies to improve the state of the global economy? Or will we continue along the current trajectory?

What do you think? What are the most pressing foreign policy issues facing the Obama administration in its second term? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.

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Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Economic data out this week suggests that the end of the global recession may be nearing. The most recent jobless numbers out of the United States gave economists reason to celebrate, as the unemployment rate declined by 1/10 of a point, leading to a price rally on Wall Street. Germany, which has seen a sharp decline in gross domestic product (glossary) during the global recession, benefitted from an unexpected expansion of exports—7 percent in June. While other countries continue to struggle, including Russia and Iceland, many economists now believe we are seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

In other news from the previous week:

1. The trial of dozens of people, including a French national and two Iranians employed in the British and French embassies began in Iran on Saturday. The defendants are charged with espionage and “acting against national security” by taking part in and reporting on post-election protests to Western embassies. Under Iranian law, a conviction on either charge could be punished by death. Several of the defendants have confessed, but Western governments have dismissed the charges as “baseless” and contend the confessions were made under duress. The government of Iran accuses the United States and Britain of interfering in its internal affairs by “proving financial help to Iran’s opposition.” Meanwhile, the trial of 100 opposition leaders continued last week. The opposition leaders have condemned the trials as a spectacle, but the defendants face charges punishable by death. Opposition leaders continue to assert that the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad in June’s disputed presidential election was the result of electoral fraud. Nevertheless, Ahmadi-Nejad was sworn in on Monday.

2. A power struggle inside Taliban in Pakistan emerged over the weekend after the organization’s top leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Friday. Mehsud was a powerful figure in the Waziristan district of Pakistan, and Pakistani officials believe he was responsible for nearly all of the major terrorist attacks in Pakistan over the past two years, including the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the bombing of Marriot Hotel in Islamabad in 2008. Many analysts believe that Mehsud’s death will undermine the ability of the Taliban to operate in Pakistan. Already, political infighting in the Taliban in Pakistan’s leadership has led to the murder of one top leader by another, as Waliur Rehman, a leading contender to lead the organization, killed Hakimullah Mehsud, a rival for the same position. Pakistani intelligence now believes the organization is likely to splinter into several factions, each operating independently, but collectively much weaker than the original organization.

3. Former President Bill Clinton met with North Korean President Kim Jong-il this week, securing the release of two American journalists who had been sentenced to twelve years of hard labor for illegally entering the country. The meeting, which the White House maintains was not part of its official diplomatic efforts to address the challenges posed by the North Korean regime, was the highest level contact between the two countries in more than ten years. The Obama administration also reminded North Korea that, despite Clinton’s trip, that the United States will continue its efforts to increase diplomatic and financial pressure on the North Korean state unless it abandons efforts to secure nuclear weapons.

4. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her Africa tour this week, meeting with Kenyan officials on Wednesday. Clinton is hoping to apply pressure on the coalition government to move forward with political reforms intended to bring grater stability to the country and to prevent another flare up of the violence which rocked the country after February’s disputed presidential election.

On Thursday, Clinton met with Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the embattled president of Somalia. Clinton used the opportunity to reiterate U.S. support for the Ahmed government, pledging to provide more military and economic assistance as the government continues its battle against Islamist insurgents. Meanwhile, in neighboring Eritrea, President Isaias Afewerki, who is believed to be a supporter of rebel groups in Somalia, dismissed U.S. efforts, saying that it is unrealistic to try and “imposing [a government] that doesn’t exist in reality.” Somalia has long topped Foreign Policy’s list of failed states. The lack of an effective central state has also made the country a haven for pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

5. A series of cyber-attacks aimed at social networking sites last week were believed to be directed at one individual—a blogger posting under the name of Cyxymu Livejournal. The denial-of-service attacks targeted several popular sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, and the blogging site Livejournal. Cyxymu Livejournal is a critic of Russian policy in the Caucuses, particularly Georgia. According to some sources, the Russian government has used denial-of-service attacks in the past, targeting sites critical of the Russian government in Georgia, Estonia, and Eastern Europe. But if responsible for the most recent round of attacks, this could represent an expansion of the strategy. Leading credence to the theory is the fact that this week marked the one year anniversary of the Russian-Georgian War over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Obama Doctrine

The U.S. presidential election is finally over.  Barack Obama is poised to make history: the first African American president, the largest popular vote total ever, the largest percentage win by a Democrat since the 1960s, a decisive win in the Electoral College, and an increase in the Democratic majority in Congress.  Like most political scientists, I stayed up late into the night discussing the results with friends and colleagues.  Today, the blogosphere is alight with debate over the outcome.  A great deal of debate centers on the scope of Obama’s mandate, the degree to which Congressional Democrats will “owe” Obama for their victory, and the reasons for his electoral success

Worldwide reaction to Obama’s win has been strong.  A Gallop global survey before the election indicated world preferred Obama to McCain by a 3:1 margin.  The Kenyan government declared a national holiday to celebrate, and Obama has received congratulatory calls from Gordon Brown and Nelson Mandela, among others.  In his blog, Tony Barber quotes a few members of the European Parliament, including Daniel Cohn-Bendit (a former 1968 student rebel leader) who said, “We should recognise that the American people have achieved something truly great in electing Obama. Today marks the end of an era of American cowboys – the second death of John Wayne.”  Peter Drysdale analyzed “What Obama Means for Asia.”

An interesting report on NPR this morning suggested that the Russian government was unsure of how to respond—and so it responded by announcing its intention to expand missile bases along the Russian-Polish border.

But so far little consideration has been given to what an Obama foreign policy would look like.  A March article from the American Prospect gives some suggestions.  It notes a speech Obama delivered in October in which he argued

This election is about ending the Iraq War, but even more it’s about moving beyond it. And we’re not going to be safe in a world of unconventional threats with the same old conventional thinking that got us into Iraq.

The article goes on to describe a foreign policy based on

a doctrine that first ends the politics of fear and then moves beyond a hollow, sloganeering ‘democracy promotion’ agenda in favor of ‘dignity promotion,’ to fix the conditions of misery that breed anti-Americanism and prevent liberty, justice, and prosperity from taking root. An inextricable part of that doctrine is a relentless and thorough destruction of al-Qaeda. Is this hawkish? Is this dovish? It’s both and neither — an overhaul not just of our foreign policy but of how we think about foreign policy. And it might just be the future of American global leadership.

This certainly represents a dramatic break from the Bush Doctrine supporting the unilateral and preemptive use of force against perceived threats.  But what does it mean for the ongoing crises in places like Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo?  Only time will tell.