Editor’s Comment

U.S. Foreign Policy Debate: Promises and Realities

It is said that American foreign policy has been in place for over a century and no President is empowered to mold it. On those terms, it is difficult to discern how President Obama or Republican candidate Mitt Romney could transform their campaign promises into functioning foreign policy if elected.

The reality is that the American Presidency is influenced by many factors on the basis of the governing principles laid by America’s forefathers over two centuries ago — but not on the basis of today’s campaign rhetoric. The Obama vs. Romney foreign policy debate will hardly be translated into reality as the candidates promise. In his 2008 campaign, Obama visualized a different foreign policy scenario from George W. Bush, but reality fell far short of his goals. Surrounded and influenced by Congress, public perception, other institutions, and the realities of geopolitics, the president does not have the executive power to transform U.S. foreign policy as he may envision.

Both Obama and Romney support an end to combat operations in Afghanistan by 2014. Obama opposes a preemptive military strike in Iran, but Romney presents Iran as a clear threat to the United States military and has spoken in more permissive terms about Israel’s right to act. Romney promotes the necessity of active balancing in Syria while Obama’s strategy has been not to intervene beyond limited covert support.

Obama’s efforts have been to ‘reset’ relations with Russia as with negotiation of the New Start agreement reducing nuclear arsenals, but Romney pledges to review the agreement, disagreeing with Obama’s view that there is no significant Eurasian hegemony to worry about.

As a diplomatic overture, President Obama would allow China to raise the value of its currency. Critical of this, Romney would rather brand China a currency manipulator.

They are divided in perspective: while Obama argues that anti-American sentiment fuels terrorism and anti-American coalitions abroad, Romney vows that ideology and interests rather than satisfying the wishes of the world should determine U.S. foreign policy goals.

Democrat and Republican candidates have always tangled in arguments and counter arguments, but these arguments vanish into the euphoria of election victory, leaving a disheartened public and a President with his hands tied unless provoked by a threat the likes of Pearl Harbor, the Cuban Missile Crisis, or 9/11. The President of the United States exercises executive power from the highest office of the country, but not on his own terms. Thus explains the ‘authority’ of the President to transform his campaign promises into functioning foreign policy.

— Probir Kumar Sarkar

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