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Warmongering: The Inseparable Element of US Presidential Election Campaigns

Friday, May 11, 2012

Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour
University Faculty Member & International Issues Analyst

The unexpected arrival of US President Barak Obama in the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on 1 May 2012 and his 6-hour stop in the country as well as his signing of the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan merit consideration more from the perspective of American domestic politics than that of their foreign policy and international implications, particularly given that it is the election year in the United States now. Obama’s address from this air base to the American public undoubtedly highlighted the domestic political aspect of the visit more than any of its other dimensions, though one should not disregard the strategic facets of Afghan-US cooperation. Moreover, a shortly after the visit, that is, on 26 April, the US Vice President Joe Biden criticized, in an immensely important and coherent speech, the foreign policy framework advocated by Mitt Romney, Obama’s contender in the US presidential race. And notably, Biden’s criticism was very precise, sensitive and noteworthy.

In these two speeches, which in fact initiated serious attacks on the positions of Mitt Romney in the area of foreign policy-making, the issues of war and Washington’s international relations have been brought into focus with a view to securing the public vote. Scrutinizing these speeches and stances bring to mind the question, how can one analyze the phenomenon of war, foreign policy and the upcoming US presidential elections? In response, the article will try to concentrate upon the issue of war and then compare the foreign policies of the two Republican and Democratic candidates and finally to investigate the dynamics of US foreign policy-making and its relation to the presidential elections.

1. War

President Obama’s speech in the Bagram air base focused mainly upon the Afghan war and the US success during his presidency in limiting the war and defeating the anti-US forces. He also suggested that during the past ten years around one million American forces took part in the war and organized the US government’s extensive measures to confront its enemies. The climax of these efforts came when the US succeeded in eliminating the Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden exactly a year ago. In addition, the timing of the trip was of great significance from the psychological standpoint. The symbolic dimensions of the speech and its focus upon war highlight a principal proposition that was uttered by Obama: “I recognize that many Americans are tired of war.” The American public’s exhaustion with war results from US involvement in two wars during the rule of former President George W. Bush, which deserves careful attention.

Obama believes that he has honoured his commitments and pledges about these two wars as the US has already pulled its military forces out of Iraq and will do the same with regard to Afghanistan until 2014, after which time the NATO will focus its efforts upon training forces and fighting against terrorism. This is what according to Obama will be discussed and agreed upon by the leaders of the Western military alliance in the next high-profile NATO summit, which is set to be held in Chicago in May. What was outstanding in Obama’s speech was his emphasis upon the American people’s weariness of war, which is exactly in contradiction to the view adhered to by Republicans, not least the conservative presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who have been advocating military action against Iran and indeed promoted it into a central debate during electoral campaigns inside the Republican party, which in turn had an impact upon the overall US policies. The Democrats, however, have managed to pass through this daunting phase in American domestic politics and portray Republicans as a group of hawkish and warmongering actors via taking advantage of such concepts as weariness of and satiation with war.

In a similar vein, Biden’s speech in New York comes to take on great significance when it is considered from the perspective that he presents Romney as a Cold War politician, contending that the Republican presidential aspirant views the world in old and outdated analytical terms. He also argued that if Romney’s policies during the election period would be accepted as a criterion for action, then we should brace ourselves for an imminent war waged by Republicans as warmongering is one of their usual characteristics and therefore, given the general circumstances of the American society, Obama and his electoral team have been trying to portray themselves as opponents of war and new tensions and thus more in tune with the general tendencies of the American nation.

This does not mean, however, that the US government’s military policy and efforts to enhance its military forces have been or will be less important during the Obama presidency, but that the issue of war constitutes a central debate in election campaigns and it seems that Republicans are facing tough challenges in turning such an issue into an electoral advantage while Democrats are striving to speak out for their relative successes in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on the one hand and defend their policy of pressing on with negotiations and preventing a new war against Iran – which is the common demand of many US Republicans and Israeli officials – on the other. This said, one should consider the issue in terms of comparing the foreign policy orientations of these rival candidates.

2. Comparing the Two Candidates’ Foreign Policy Orientations

It is obvious that Mitt Romney lacks experience, insight and complexity of thought when it comes to foreign policy making, which was precisely what Biden underscored in his aforementioned speech. He does not possess remarkable executive, intellectual and academic records in the area of foreign policy while he does not have a powerful team of experts in international affairs either. These weak points were ruthlessly exploited by Biden, who depicted him as somebody who does not even have basic knowledge of foreign policy or even as a politician who is unaware of international issues in the first place. Biden’s speech on 26 April demonstrates a significant move, that is, his and the Democrat front’s efforts to isolate or marginalize Romney even among the Republicans themselves by recourse to the issue of foreign policy making. Explaining that Romney’s foreign policy positions are fundamentally different from those of such conservative thinkers and theorists as Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, Biden placed special emphasis upon his assertion that Russia is America’s number one enemy and in fact ridiculed Romney for his myopic and simplistic views.

The weak spot pointed out by Biden is not an inconsiderable one and will be continuously used in electoral campaigns against Romney. In addition, it seems that Obama has considerable points of strength in the area of foreign policy, which are comparably more presentable in election campaigns. Biden stressed the success of the Obama administration during the past three years in developing a type of new cooperation between the United States and Russia, whose fruit has been the adoption of strong resolutions by the United Nations Security Council against the Islamic Republic and the ensuing enforcement of severe and sophisticated sanctions on the country over its nuclear energy programme. He also pointed to Washington’s relations with its old and new allies, even claiming that the Obama administration’s ties with the Israeli government is stronger than the past and in fact the American-Israeli bilateral relations have been deepened during his presidency.

Another salient point in comparing the two candidate’s foreign policy approaches was the attempt to represent Romney as a novice who lacks a good team, sufficient insight and a basic understanding of America’s international status. The comparative analysis of the situation appears to show that Democrats will take considerable advantage of their strong points and the rival team’s weak spots in foreign policy making and Romney will prove to the ultimate loser in this respect. One cannot, however, speak about the future with absolute certainty as foreign policy is a dynamic phenomenon and its dynamism may lead to unpredictable circumstances.

3. Foreign Policy Dynamics

Foreign policy, not only in the United States but also all over the world, is one of the most dynamic phenomena of socio-political life. In the case of the US, however, such dynamism is more complex and extensive due to the country’s massive engagement with international issues, and any development, position or statement regarding foreign policy can be exploited by electoral rivals in this context.

To offer an example, the issue of Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng taking refuge in the American embassy in Beijing, the ultimate agreement of Chinese authorities to his decision to leave the country as an ordinary citizen, his phone call to some members of the US Congress as well as the broadcasting of his words to the Congress, which had been orchestrated by Republican representatives, is one of the small but considerable developments in the dynamic context of foreign policy. Republicans have thus been trying to make maximum use of a simple incident and present Obama’s foreign policy towards China as one which is indifferent to human rights violations. It appears, however, that the Obama administration’s management of the controversy and extensive cooperation between the United States and China have so far prevented the incident from developing into a sweeping issue suitable for deep exploitation. Yet, from now until the election day, tens of such developments may take place and be utilized by both sides, and notably such dynamism in foreign policy has flung the fate of the US presidential candidates into a state of ambiguity and uncertainty in the international arena.

One should note that whatever the evaluation of Obama’s foreign policy is, it will finally be considered within the context of US domestic politics and economic situation. Moreover, one should never forget that apart from the aforementioned electoral slogans and statements, the major foreign policies of both Republicans and Democrats are too similar to each other and in fact can been seen a certain continuity in US policies on the international stage regardless of the political tendency of the ruling party. For instance, one needs to remember that during the Obama years military issues never lost their significance in the US foreign policy making as Washington made much use of military means during his presidency.

Never in the contemporary American history has military technology, particularly unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, been used on such a large scale as it was by the Obama administration to target and eliminate anti-US elements. This represents, in one way or another, a continuity of former US president George W. Bush’s military policies, which will most probably be pursued by any other future president in the United States. On the whole, the American foreign policy has been intertwined with militarism and the two are not separable from each other. What matters in the current circumstances, however, is how to take advantage of the issue of war and people’s weariness of war and to present the other side as warmongering and thus expose the rival candidate’s weaknesses. In the final analysis, it seems that compared to Barak Obama, not only does Romney lack a remarkable and presentable record in the area of foreign policy making, but he has also failed to guard himself safely against the stigma of hawkishness attributed to him by Democrats.

Key Words: Warmongering, US Presidential Election, Foreign Policy Dynamics, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Sajjadpour

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
http://www.irdiplomacy.ir
Translated By: Iran Review

More By Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour:

*The United States and its Concern about World Leadership: http://iranreview.org/content/Documents/The_United_States_and_World_Leadership.htm

*Iran and US Election Campaigns: Anatomy of the Ongoing Propaganda Hype: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran_and_US_Election_Campaigns_Anatomy_of_the_Ongoing_Propaganda_Hype.htm

*Military Attack on Iran: Anatomy of Israel’s Intentions: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Military_Attack_on_Iran_Anatomy_of_Israel’s_Intentions_2.htm

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