With the US election imminent it seems important to discuss what the future may hold. What’s going to happen with regard to Iran and Syria, how about relations with China? In this post I’ll discuss the two Presidential Candidates and what the world can expect from each of them should they win. I will try to address the major foreign policy issues that will greet the next President as he walks into The White House. I will not cover the Arab Spring and the new Egyptian government, since those issues would require an article of their own. I’ll start with some background on the key issues and how they have been dealt with over the last 4 years.
Obama’s tenure as President has seen a great deal of international strife, with some issues directly affecting the US. Under his government the US has withdrawn from Iraq and begun the withdrawal from Afghanistan. His hike in the amount of drone attacks has led to the deaths of Al-Qaeda leaders and soldiers, and other terrorist insurgents around the world. This policy has many times proved controversial, notably when 24 Pakistani soldiers were mistakenly killed by a US drone in November 2011. Pakistan closed NATO supply routes to Afghanistan in response.
Perhaps the most significant event in the US’ battle with terrorism was the death of Osama Bin Laden at the hands of Seal Team 6 on Pakistani soil. This caused embarrassment for the Pakistani authorities when it was revealed that Bin Laden’s compound was located near to a military base. The US were also accused of violating national sovereignty by not informing the Pakistani government of the mission in advance.
America has spearheaded further pressure on Iran over its nuclear enrichment programme, a path that many fear may lead to nuclear weapons capability. No military action has yet been taken. The US’ ally in the Middle East, Israel, has called for pre-emptive strikes on Iran, but those demands have not yet been taken too seriously by the UN Security Council. The US is also under increasing pressure to take a harsher stance against President Bashar Al-Assad and the human rights abuses he is accused of.
Finally the issue of the US’ relationship with China is important. Governor Romney has made a point of bringing up what he refers to as China’s cheating when it comes to the value of its currency. With many American companies outsourcing jobs to China at a time when US unemployment is at 7.9%, the way in which the next President will deal with China is a key issue.
President Barack Obama:
What can we expect from more Obama? Predictably more of the same. The withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan will continue, and so, in all likelihood, will the drone attacks. In fact such attacks are likely to increase due to the accuracy that drones are able to achieve without endangering the lives of the pilots. Negotiation with the Taliban is probably on the cards, since anonymous interviews with members of the Taliban elite revealed that many among them recognise that victory is impossible.
Future relations with Pakistan if Obama wins are likely to improve somewhat, but they will remain strained. Drone strikes will continue, and therefore so will Pakistani opposition to those attacks.
The agenda when it comes to Iran will stay the same for the time being. Obama has largely been willing to be part of whatever the decision the UN Security Council (plus Germany) comes to. Relations between the US and Israel may become slightly strained as a result of the likely decision of non-intervention. In Syria Obama will do everything in his
power not to become involved, especially as Russia have links with Assad, and Obama does not want a diplomatic conflict with Mr Putin’s government.
Finally, Obama’s position on China won’t change. Pressure from a Republican House will put strain on him, but it’s unlikely he would directly criticise the Chinese government, with the exception of human rights issues.
How about Romney then?
Governor Mitt Romney:
On Afghanistan Romney seems to want to reassess what’s happening. He still plans to have US troops out by the end of 2014, but this may change depending on the state of the Afghan military and other factors. Romney will probably also negotiate with the Taliban, but may hinder talks by going in brashly. With Pakistan Romney is likely to be less friendly than Obama.
His website describes how America has ‘leverage’ over Pakistan and should not refrain from using it to stamp out any collaboration with insurgents. By this Romney means the aid the US gives to Pakistan each year. It is possible that any withdrawal of aid may end up hurting those innocent people who need the aid before it stops terrorism. Stopping or further reducing aid will not engender good relations with the Pakistani people. Also, Romney will certainly continue drone attacks.
Iran is probably the issue where the two Presidential candidates differ the most. Romney has already made it clear that he backs Israel unconditionally. From his stance it is not difficult to picture America taking part in, or at least sanctioning, military intervention in Iran. This aggressive attitude is likely to strain relations with the UN, which has, so far, avoided direct intervention, preferring to favour the economic sanctions that have been hitting Iran hard. Romney’s stance on Syria will be similar.
It’s also worth mentioning that if Romney is elected then he’s going to have to be careful on his first official trip to the UK as President. When he visited earlier this year he made the mistake of questioning whether London was ready to host the Olympics. The British public will not forget that in a hurry.
As for China, Romney has said that if he is elected he will accuse their government of cheating by keeping their currency low. This will be extremely counter-productive for relations between the two nations, but Romney is likely to achieve little unless his call is echoed by other major trading nations.
So what does this all mean? The general picture seems to be that, if elected, Romney would pursue a much more aggressive foreign policy, through diplomacy and possibly militarily action, that may change the way the world views the US. This is not to say that Obama would not use force, but he is likely to avoid doing so for longer. Who will win the election is difficult to predict, since the polls are so close. My prediction is that Obama will win the Presidential election and maintain a Democrat held Senate, but will not gain a majority in the House of Representatives. As always, and especially on Wednesday morning, keep an eye on the news.