Every four years the US holds a presidential election, which receives plenty of coverage in worldwide news. US elections lead to various changes as voters veto the incumbent presidents to determine whether they have fulfilled their election promises. The stage is already set for a showdown for the next US general elections, which will be on November 6, 2012. During the election, the colors blue and red will once again challenge each other. President Barack Obama and republican candidate Mitt Romney will spearhead the event. Two politicians who subscribe to different schools of thought will fight to occupy the most powerful political seat in the world, the White House. Americans will vote in the president who will articulate various issues effectively. Currently, the economy is one the major issues that promise to influence the voting pattern of voters. In addition, the war on terrorism and foreign relations will also influence the voting patterns of Americans. Democrats and Republicans follow completely different policies (Wittkopf & McCormick, 2008). Therefore, a regime change would lead to drastic changes in the US foreign policy and consequently spread to influence the foreign policies of American allies. This is because foreign policy of powerful nations influences the foreign policy of countries that surround it and its allies. American perceptions on terrorism influenced the foreign policies of other countries significantly. Support of American allies in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, had political repercussions for their allies. It is the main reason that led to the ouster of British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
During his first term as president, Obama has instigated various foreign policy initiatives, which contravene those of the previous administration – the Bush administration. The Arab Spring is one of the most recent developments that promise to influence future relations of the US with Arab countries. During the Arab Spring Obama showed unequivocal support to Arabs in their quest to seek democracy and oust dictators. However, future relations with Arab countries depend on whether there would be an improvement in living conditions of residents of the Arab countries. Should the Arab Spring lead to instability in these countries, it would increase Arabs contempt towards America.
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However, despite the fact the Republicans have a foreign policy that is clearer than that of the Democrats it seems many people trust President Obama’s foreign policy. Democrats traditionally have a more changing foreign policy, in accordance with the current global developments (Wittkopf & McCormick, 2008). In fact, Obama’s vision of the world was the main factor that made him win the first election. Obama had open criticism of the war in Iraq and various policies of the previous administration with regard to terrorism. During his 2008 election campaign, President Barack Obama campaigned based on creating a shift from the conventional politics of Washington. The promise of ending policies of the past – with foreign policy being one of the major policies – made him win the election. The Obama campaign adopted slogans such as “Change We Can Believe In” and “Yes We Can,” thus empowering the electorate to believe that they could change the current policies of the government. Obama was ultimately able to defeat Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary and John McCain in the presidential election. Obama urged Americans to have new concepts of thinking, which would enable them to overcome their inhibitions and lead to the development of a stronger and more united America.
Obama supporters regard him highly due to his fight against terrorism and for inspiring democracy in Arab countries. During his first term, Obama has been able to do what President Bush could not do in two terms; Osama bin Laden, Muamar Gadhafi, and Anuar al Aulaki are out of the picture. Obama has led to the crumbling of Al Qaeda and democratic revolution in several Middle East countries. In addition, Obama has set the date for the complete evacuation of all American soldiers from Afghanistan. Removal of all American troops from Afghanistan will lead to the end of a war that caused the American taxpayer hundreds of billions of dollars.
In spite of all the good result that the Obama administration’s foreign policy has yielded, there are parties who are not contented with the achievements and foreign policies of the Obama administration. President Obama has faced criticism from Republicans, who claim that in supporting the Arab Spring, he has compromised American interests in the Middle East. In addition, various parties who claim that Obama did not support the uprisings only until it was clear that the movements would achieve success (Gelvin, 2012). The Obama administration faces questions as to why they do support democratic movements in other dictatorial regimes in the Middle East, such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, which are traditional American allies. American support in democratization of the Middle East will create great opportunities for foreign relations with Arab countries. However, time will tell whether Americans will agree with this foreign policy in the long term, and whether they will value it in voting during the next presidential election.
Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, is also following the path that Obama followed in his 2008 presidential campaign. Romney is calling for a change of traditional Washington politics by using his business experience to woo voters. The Romney campaign promises various changes in American foreign policy, to restore America its previous glory. However, what is clear is that both Republicans and Democrats have a tendency of shifting towards the middle ground once they ascend to office. In addition, American presidents who want to be re-elected and are serving their first term, are usually moderate and do not move far from the status quo. This enables them to appeal both the independent and moderate voters.
Presidential candidates who are on the campaign trail usually make idealistic foreign policy promises, which they forget once they ascend into office. During this period, it is critical for presidential candidates to plan carefully their foreign policy strategies. Poor and unrealistic foreign policies usually make the electorate reject the presidential candidate. Mitt Romney has threatened to impose trade sanctions on China if it does stop manipulating its currency and intellectual property theft (Cesky, 2011). However, time will tell whether Romney would undertake such measures, given the complex nature of global politics. It is critical to note that Obama also made such promises before ascending to office in 2008.
During the Obama presidential campaign, he promised the electorate that he would end the Cyprus conflict, which would show America’s leadership in its quest to negotiate a political settlement on the politically and ethnically divided Cyprus. However, Obama has failed to fulfill this campaign promise. In fact, the last major attempt to end the Cyprus conflict was in 2004, during the Bush era. In addition, during his campaign, Obama promised to collaborate with Russia to remove the off hair trigger alert of nuclear weapons (Patterson, 2010). However, after ascending office Obama maintained that all American strategic forces, missiles and nuclear weapons that are on alert should be remain at their current state. By maintaining this Cold War stance, America creates an unnecessary risk of accidental or unauthorized nuclear launch, which would have devastating global effects. However, this maintains the status quo as Russia also has several weapons on hair trigger alert. In fact, the promise to remove nuclear missiles off hair trigger alert was one of Bush’s campaign promises during his first term in 2000. However, after more than a decade this campaign promise remains unfulfilled. This is despite the fact that it has significant foreign policy implications, from the American national security perspective. Therefore, it is pertinent to say that presidential campaigns make most presidential candidates make several foreign policy and campaign promises and leave them unaltered even after they complete their term in office. Complexities of the American and global politics, which in most cases the leaders underestimate, usually make the presidential candidates not to fulfill their foreign policy and campaign promises.
However, it is important to note that presidents do not break all their foreign policy promises. Presidents usually develop stronger relations with certain countries. President Obama has developed strong relations with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In fact, the relationship between the leaders of these two countries is the strongest in decades. President Obama and the Turkish Prime Minister communicate frequently and collaborate on various policy issues affecting the region. The US and Turkey had tense relations after the beginning of the Iraq War when the Turkish Prime Minister prohibited the US from using Turkey as a launching pad for the invasion of Iraq (Ignatius, 2011). However, the US and Turkey still collaborated on key issues and have since mend their powerful relationship. Turkey has been critical in managing and responding to the events of the Arab Spring, especially in Syria and Libya. Turkey has also been a critical mediator between the US and Iran on various foreign policy initiatives – especially Iran’s nuclear program.
However, this does not imply that there have been significant changes in foreign policy priorities after the Bush era, or that the foreign policy priorities will change if Mitt Romney – republican presidential candidate – ascends to office after the next presidential election. Despite the fluctuations of the relationship between the US and Turkey, Turkey is a member of NATO and has always been a leader on issues regarding Middle and Near-East. Turkey frequently gives the US unwavering support on various issues touching on the region. The refusal of Turkey to allow US to launch an offensive into Iraq from Turkey did not thwart American foreign policy of attacking Iraq and Saddam Hussein (Flanagan & Brannen, 2008). The US maintained its foreign policy but used different methods of engagement. Therefore, since Turkey has always been a strategic contributor to American foreign policies in the region, the outcome of the next presidential election is unlikely to affect the relations between the two countries. This is despite the changing of the relationship between the two countries. The relations of the US with other countries that have similar strategic importance are also not likely to change. The relations with other countries of strategic importance may only change if there is a total overhaul of the US foreign policy, something that is highly unlikely -- is not next to impossible – as it would put the US at great risks.
The formation of the US foreign policy priorities is highly dependent on the political atmosphere during their inauguration. Since Obama ascended into office, unconditional engagement of Iran with the US has been the main US foreign policy. On the other hand, Iran has assumed the foreign policy of total rejection of engagement. The US policy with Iran has been America’s primary concern since the 1979 Iranian revolution. This is due to Iran’s strong military and economic presence and more recently its ambition to develop a nuclear program. Throughout this period, the US foreign policy on Iran has aimed at reducing Iran’s power through sanctions. The US policy on Iran has recently changed to involve diplomacy instead of sanctions. However, the Iranian government continues to condemn the US foreign policy towards the country, and upholds the policy of non- engagement with the American government (Fayazmanesh, 2008). Therefore, regardless of whether Obama or Romney wins the next presidential election, Iran’s perception of the US foreign policy and consequently the US foreign policy on Iran would remain the same.
Romney has also threatened to impose economic sanctions on China due to human rights and economic violations, as well as lack of Chinese support in the UN resolution against Syria. It is vital to note that the US does not enjoy strong diplomatic ties with China. However, due to China’s importance in the economic well-being of the US, it is highly unlikely that Romney would take any drastic foreign policy measures on China. The State House visit of the Chinese president Hu Jintao, and more recently the visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who would most likely succeed President Hu Jintao by 2013, portrays the importance of China to the US. Therefore, despite the fact that both Obama and Romney, have made statements with regard to changes in the US foreign policy on China, the fact that Obama welcomed both the Chinese leader and future leader shows that the winner of the 2012 presidential election will most likely place the same value on China. This is mainly due to the global economic importance of China (Sutter, 2012). It will be unwise for any candidate who wins the 2012 presidential election to take drastic measures on China, as China is the country that has bought most of America’s debt. Offloading of the debt, at a time when the country has not fully recovered from the economic recession would have dire economic and political consequences on the US. This has made various parties claim that there is a gradual shift in power from the US to China and other BRIC (Brazil, Russia, and India) countries, which is in fact true.
American foreign policy priorities have greatly changed since the establishment of the US. America has shifted from the foreign policy of Isolationism to becoming the global military and economic superpower. Therefore, the US foreign policy priorities affect most of the world. In addition, the role of the American presidents in politics has changed greatly. Nowadays, Americans elect their presidents after very long and demanding campaigns. However, upon assuming office, the political environment and strong forces in Washington force presidents to continue acting in a manner that similar to the previous president. In addition, maintaining strong diplomatic relations with other countries necessitates the president to act like the previous president. However, various global developments may lead to drastic changes in US foreign policy priorities. Drastic changes in the US foreign policy priorities after the September 11 terrorists bombing of the TwinTowers and Pentagon in the US portray how global developments may lead to changes in foreign policy priorities. Therefore, the US foreign policy may change drastically if Iran and Israel – or any US ally in the Middle East – goes to war. This situation and political institutions that influence the president, may force any sitting US president to at the time to take similar actions, regardless of the president or the party affiliation of the president.
Historically, all American presidential candidates try to conform to various forces in Washington, and shift from their extreme campaign promises to moderation, once they assume office. This enables them to gain support that will be vital for the success of their presidency. Former President Bill Clinton clearly portrays this shift in foreign policy. In 1992, when Clinton was campaigning against George H.W. Bush – the incumbent president – he promised to take a tougher stance on China in the wake of the Tiananmen Square than George H.W. Bush. Clinton accused Bush of coddling the Chinese despite their inhuman acts. However, when Clinton became president he softened his stance on US foreign policy approach on China upon discovering that there were several reasons that made the Bush act the way it did (Neack, 2003). Obama has also softened his stand the war in Afghanistan. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama claimed that America was fighting the wrong war, and promised withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan as his first priority upon becoming president. However, upon becoming president, he discovered it was not easy to remove US troops from Afghanistan within a short period due to various complex issues. However, Obama finally set the date for the complete evacuation of US troops from Afghanistan. This shift usually occurs during the president’s first term as they strive to appeal to both the independent and moderate voters, who are critical in their quest for reelection. President Barack Obama is currently in his first term, and therefore, faces this situation. If Mitt Romney wins the 2012 presidential election, he would face a similar situation, making him alter some of his campaign promises. Therefore, it is pertinent to say that the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, would definitely change the US logistics and foreign relations but, the US foreign policy priorities would remain the same even after the election.
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