October 20, 2010
Whilst the German and French leaders have initiated at Deauville the resetting of their countries’ relationship with Russia, the United States is, according to Robert Kagan, in the process of “resetting the reset”. In a Washington Post article on the subject published on October 1st (“America: once engaged, now ready to lead”), Kagan claims that United States foreign policy is “shifting”. Thus, if in Phase One (2009) the US tried to mend fences with European and Asian countries alarmed by America’s unilateralism or the Iraq invasion, in Phase Two (2010) it is discovering the limits of the relationship with Russia and China. In the words of the author, this phase “will be built around the core US alliances with democratic nations”.
To prove his point, Kagan quotes from Secretary Clinton’s 2010 speeches in which Russia and China appear unexpectedly singled out as “authoritarian states”. He also believes the diplomatic relationship with India will receive a boost from president Obama’s upcoming November visit to New Delhi, and mentions the desire of South-East Asian nations to have the US on their side against upcoming (possibly planned ?) confrontations with China.
The reset with Russia is deemed by Kagan to be going downhill after the signing of of the START agreement, and there is unhealthy talk in Washington about ” a new American moment”, as Hillary Clinton put it. This “new American moment”, to be sure, is not about democracies versus totalitarianism, as this could not encompass, for example, countries like Venezuela. This time around it is about democracy versus “authoritarianism” – because, as Kagan contends in his closing argument, “democracy looks like a better answer to many of the world’s problems than authoritarianism”. Or does it ?
In fact, the economic performance of India and China, two equally populous and fast-growing countries in Asia, tells a different story. After 30 years of sustained economic development, China has replaced Japan as the second most powerful economy in the world, whilst India’s economy is still lagging far behind. Whilst the Chinese have lifted 400 million people out of poverty, India is still discussing the issue. Where China has largely secured its raw materials and energy needs, India is beset by chronic power shortages and finds it hard to complete even one gas pipeline, in order to maintain its current 8 percent growth rate.
Furthermore, the invasion of Iraq was initiated by a democratic superpower, which in the process lost its moral claim to superiority over one party-led states, especially after the Abu Ghraib incident. The Iraqi war debunked the myth that democracies do not start wars and engaged the US in a military adventure that is about to end in strategic defeat. To date, China has refused to participate in military operations in Afghanistan, even when invited by the US Command, and there are no known Chinese invasion plans against any country, in Asia or elsewhere.
When the State Department talks about “strengthening ties with other democracies”, India is first to come to mind. In Europe, anti-Russian politicians can always be found in countries like the Czech Republic, Poland or even Romania. In Central Europe, ex CIA-backed politicians from the ’80s have recently been reactivated and encouraged, among other things, to write a tear-jerker letter to president Obama about “the great threat from the East” represented by Russia and the subsequent need for the US to stay engaged in Europe. In Japan, foreign policy experts like Hitoshi Tanaka have been encouraged to ask publicly for the US to stay engaged in Asia, as if the peace and prosperity of the region would depend on it.
The “reset of the reset”, therefore, signals the inability of US foreign policy-making bodies to offer Americans another vision of their country’s place and role in a multi-polar world. Unable or unwilling to come up with a foreign policy blueprint for the future, these are serving up much the same old fare US policy has been based on since the Truman days (US is the only country capable of leading the world, indeed the world expects the US to do so,etc).
The Obama administration’s inability to continue on the course it embarked on in 2009 could prove worse than the strategic defeat the US is experiencing in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is so because framing a foreign policy based on the wrong assumptions could not only affect a country’s reputation and standing internationally, but also its ability to establish successful business relationships with nations holding the resources its economy depends on. To a large extent, this is already happening in the field of oil & gas, for example. Pressing allies to forsake deals with authoritarian states because of differences in political systems will not guarantee peace, prosperity or, for that matter, normal economic exchanges among nations. By contrast, China’s trade policies and its realpolitik approach to foreign relations have proven much more successful in Latin America, Central Asia or even Europe. This should be uppermost on US experts’ minds when trying to frame a new foreign policy that works.Florian Pantazi