Foreign policy: the crucial divide

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Since the early 1990’s, the US has been a hyper-power, the single most powerful actor on the international scene. Their hegemony, thanks to victory in the Cold War, led America to question its foreign policy and to ask themselves a question with huge future ramifications: what form should their internationalism take? The President at the time, George Bush Senior, had no doubts – an isolationist policy was rejected, and America would be strongly involved in international politics for the foreseeable future.

Since then, the US has done precisely this. It has interfered far and wide in international affairs, and extended its influence over the UN. Its questionable belief in its right to do this is based on a sense of global responsibility, that the US has the power to stop humanitarian tragedies from and that it has a responsibility to help those in need.

On a basic level, both Obama and Romney hold this view, and will react to major events in the same fashion – for a global disaster vast quantities of aid will be sent, for a terrorist attack a violent retaliation will occur. The subtle differences between them however are more important than they first appear, perhaps because these differences could prove key to whether moments of conflict occur in the first place.

Obama’s approach will no doubt be cautious, a form of pragmatic liberal interventionism. Obama however holds an ace for hawkish critics: the death of Osama Bin Laden. His supporters can point to his sensitivity to key regions and to differences both within and between various religions, as exemplified in his address in Cairo, Egypt shortly after his election.

Romney has been relatively quiet on foreign policy on the campaign trail, understandably given Obama’s success as Commander in Chief and voters’ focus on the economy. However if he becomes president, he will bring a more nationalistic flavour to the role, and one more distinctly Republican. Neo-conservative supporters from the Bush Administration lie in the wings for Romney, who will seek to establish US strength on the international scene after what he perceives as a lack of control by Obama, and increase defence spending by 4 per cent.

Romney’s attraction is simple for the American people – he is a successful businessman, who has the credentials to get the economy back on track. Ultimately, 37 per cent of Americans polled put the economy as their main concern when voting, with unemployment at 28 per cent coming second. Romney, if elected, will not hold office for skill in foreign policy, but for his economic plans.

However, this could be a very dangerous concern for the international scene – the global economy is obviously the priority, but Romney must maintain good relations internationally, and preferably not label China a “currency manipulator” on his first day in office, as he has pledged to provocatively do.
Romney and Obama are two very different politicians, who whilst holding central ground on foreign policy will approach these issues in very different ways. Many foreign policy issues could boil to the surface over the next four years: the war on terror, retreat from Afghanistan, Syria, and most worryingly, Iran’s move towards nuclear capability.

Nuclear proliferation is a difficult thing to stop – with a careful hand on the tiller, a skilled politician could try and diffuse Iran’s need for such power, primarily by holding control over Israel to appease the concern of the Middle East in general. Obama or Romney will have to show all their political expertise to manage an increasingly worrying situation.

The American people will have to decide carefully who they choose as their next president – his task is not simply the behemoth that is the economy, but also to be the Commander in Chief. At a time of change and uncertainty, America must tread carefully, and choose the right man to lead their country.

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