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U.S. Foreign Policy in the Post-Bush Era

Fareed Zakaria argues that John McCain’s foreign policy would be bellicose whereas Barack Obama’s would be conciliatiatory but, as Dave Schuler notes, both are “confrontational” and “interventionist,” just with slightly different priorities.

Zakaria points to a recent McCain speech:

Not only does it declare war on Russia and China, it places the United States in active opposition to all nondemocracies. It proposes a League of Democracies, which would presumably play the role that the United Nations now does, except that all nondemocracies would be cast outside the pale. The approach lacks any strategic framework. What would be the gain from so alienating two great powers? How would the League of Democracies fight terrorism while excluding countries like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Singapore? What would be the gain to the average American to lessen our influence with Saudi Arabia, the central banker of oil, in a world in which we are still crucially dependent on that energy source?

But this vastly overstates and misunderstands McCain’s proposals — not to mention the nature of the presidency.

McCain does not “declare war on Russia and China” or even place “the United States in active opposition to all nondemocracies.” Rather, he argues that we should seek to pursue our interests through the venue of an alliance with those with whom we share values.

He thinks Russia, which has not lived up to the bargain through which it was granted membership to which it was never due to the G-8, should be removed from that institution and that it should be expanded to include emerging economies that are on the same path as the core members of that group. Russia was not admitted to the club of the world’s greatest economies either through having a great economy or, as Zakaria asserts, “to recognize and reward it for peacefully ending the cold war on Western terms, dismantling the Soviet empire and withdrawing from large chunks of the old Russian Empire as well.” Rather, Boris Yeltsin showed up at the meetings and the other leaders didn’t really know what to do about it. Russia was finally admitted in 1997 after making agreeing to and reaching certain milestones but has backslid toward autocracy and regional belligerence in recent years.

China is an emerging economy and I agree with Zakaria that expansion of the G8 to include the likes of India but not China would be problematic. On the other hand, India is more-or-less democratic and complies with the rules of international law; China, not so much.

The idea that a League of Democracies would somehow lessen our mutal interest-based relations with Saudi Arabia and others is likewise puzzling. Does our membership in NATO do that?

Further, as Dave notes, while Obama is more open to diplomacy for its own sake than McCain, as demonstrated by his stated willingness to talk to the leaders of Cuba, Iran, and other states — which I support, incidentally — we shouldn’t pretend that he’s Jimmy Carter.

Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are equally confrontational and interventionist. You can hardly interpret Sen. Clinton’s bellicose statements about Iran and her stump speech hostility to China or Sen. Obama’s stated willingness to intervene in Dar Fur or invade Pakistan in pursuit of Taliban and Al Qaeda finding safe haven there in any other way.

[…]

It looks very much as though come what may we’re going to have a confrontational interventionist president and we and the world had better get used to the idea. So much for mending fences and restoring the U. S.’s lost credibility.

Which, frankly, isn’t surprising. To become president of the United States, after all, one has to be elected by Americans. Our political culture demands a willingness to stand tough against rogue regime and to use military force against those who attack our interests. Even Jimmy Carter had his Desert One. And Carter was a one-termer largely because of his (minus that botched rescue mission) diplomacy-only response to the Iran Hostage Crisis.

Beyond that, as I’ve noted in previous posts, American presidents operate within the institutional confines of the office. The bureaucratic information process remains largely unchanged despite the changing of the occupants of the Oval Office. Congress continues to have essentially the same institutional stance as well, putting enormous pressure on presidents to conform to the expected role of the office.

None of this is to say that the November election won’t impact America’s foreign policy. It will. The personality, temperament, and preferences of the president very much matter, especially in world affairs. But the impact is not nearly as radical as Zakaria and others would have you believe.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. DL says:

    “The personality, temperament, and preferences of the president very much matter, especially in world affairs.”

    Wow! We’re in bigger trouble than I thought. John McCain will need a refresher course on that personality and temperment bit. His preferences are often similar to the other two anyway – save for terrorism. The question is whether or not he will seek the favor of the world’s liberal press the same as he seeks the favor of our liberal press? Any bets?

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  2. THANKS TO JEREMIAH WRIGHT, THERE WILL NEVER, EVER, EVER BE A BLACK PRESIDENT…

    Folk’s, get mad all you want, call the PC police IF you like. I’m watching Rev Wright answer questions now, I watched his speech last night. This guy has ruined any advances in race relations and has most probably set us back 50 years, ma…

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  3. Dave Schuler says:

    My own view on membership in the various international organizations is that the membership requirements should be objective, published, and automatic if you meet the prerequisites.

    The problem with this, of course, is that it would reveal the inadequacies of the present crop of international organizations. It’s hard for me to see why Luxembourg, for example, has UN membership and Nebraska doesn’t, why France and the UK have veto-wielding seats on the UNSC and Japan doesn’t, or why the G8 isn’t the G9 i.e. China isn’t a member.

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  4. Brian says:

    I agree with Dave on this. In addition, I would be more willing to buy into a candidate committed to the restructuring of current international organizations to fit Dave’s model rather than starting another one. We already have multiple, antiquated organizations; adding to that list just further diminishes their authority and purpose.

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  5. Anatomy of Surrender…

    Just in case you missed this over at Hot Air or Dhimmi Watch. Bruce Bawer’s latest article examines the cultural jihad.What has not been widely recognized is that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa against Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie intro…

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  6. mannning says:

    I find it extremely difficult to put any belief whatsoever in the stump speeches of Obama, or even Clinton regarding their foreign policies. Their credibility is rather suspect.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. davod says:

    “while Obama is more open to diplomacy for its own sake than McCain, as demonstrated by his stated willingness to talk to the leaders of Cuba, Iran, and other states — which I support, incidentally — we shouldn’t pretend that he’s Jimmy Carter.”

    Nobody thought Jimmy Carter would turn out like Jimmy Carter when Americans elected him.

    Do we really want to go down the road again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. SCOTUS rules: Voter ID laws are constitutional…

    Told ya so.  Now, watch as the world comes unglued and the liberals implode that actual accountability is a part of voting.

     Via AP:

    WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can require voters to produ…

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  9. Shadowscope says:

    House of Horror!…

    It’s like something out of a bad movie or a scary novel. Apparently this dude has kept his daughter locked in the basement for 24 years, had seven children by her, burning one of them in the oven when the……

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Adam's Blog says:

    The Evil Standard?…

    Podcast Show Notes
    By supporting the lesser of two evils, does evil become the standard for political decision making?
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  13. When Narcissist Attack – Part III – Sometimes I Feel Like An Aborted Fetus!…

    NARCISSISTS AREN’T JUST DEM OR GOPOne of the great third party narcissists, Chuck Baldwin, pulled off something of a coup this weekend and is now the Constitution Party’s nominee for POTUS. This is excellent news for John McCain because it is the v…

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  14. When Narcissists Attack – Part I – Illegal Vultures…

    JUDICIAL WATCH GOES AFTER BIG MACI’m not a fan of Judicial Watch.  I think it is a crock.  As if to prove my point, that my theory that certain conservatives are going to do all they can to ruin the man, Judicial Watch  pops up and fil…

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  15. When Narcissists Attack – Part II – A Convenient Untruth…

    MALKIN’S HATRED OF JOHN MCCAINWhen Aristotle defined hubris, he may have been thinking of Michelle Malkin.”…Aristotle defined hubris as follows: to cause shame to the victim, not in order that anything may happen to you, nor because anything has h…

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  16. Today’s SCOTUS Voter Fraud ruling is a victory for common sense, and a slap in Obama’s face…

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    First of all, as I said earlier, this is a complete victory for common sense.  It just makes simple sense…

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  17. bernie says:

    Just FYI, I linked to your article from Barbie Conquers Iran, Excerpt: …”without coercion, people will always choose to be like Americans. If Muslims were free to abandon their faith without fear of being whipped, tortured, burned and killed, and were exposed to American culture, in short order, Islam would cease to exist.”

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  18. […] to Outside the Beltway, third world county, Maggie’s Notebook, Adam’s Blog, Shadowscope, The Pink Flamingo, […]

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  19. Redneck Mansion…

    Seen Somewhere In The Rural South
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  20. […] to Outside the Beltway, third world county, McCain Blogs, Maggie’s Notebook, Adam’s Blog, The World According […]

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  21. Dallas CBS Affiliate Buries Negative Jeremiah Wrig…

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  22. Right Truth says:

    The problem is ignorance, as Obama turns tail and denies Rev. Wright and his church…

    As I type this, Barack Obama is on television denouncing his ‘old uncle’, his 20 year spiritual adviser and mentor. Seems Obama’s political advisers got through to him, advised him his campaign was in the crapper thanks to Rev. Jeremiah…

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  23. Never Understood a Single Word He Said…

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  24. Obama Shocked, Shocked About Jeremiah Wright…

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  25. Ann Coulter and the Wright Stuff…

    I have always seen Barack Obama as a basically decent guy who simply lacks the experience to be effective going toe-to-toe with this nation’s enemies. There is, however, another Obama out there, the soft-spoken paranoid lunatic described by Ann Coulte…

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