The Great Foreign Policy Divide

Written on October 2, 2012 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in News

By Roger Cohen

China is a status quo power. It preaches dialogue, noninterference and the sanctity of national sovereignty because it does not want major global disruptions to its pursuit of the economic growth essential to political stability and full development by midcentury.

Russia is also a status quo power — the status quo of 30 years ago, that is. Under President Vladimir Putin, it wants to turn back the clock and restore the world to a place dominated by two superpowers going mano a mano. It has been prepared to watch thousands of Syrians die in order to demonstrate it still wields a big stick.

Europe is a status-seeking power, undermined by the crisis of the euro and the democratic deficit in its institutions, bereft of the idealism that once drove the pursuit of European unity, and represented by a “president” nobody has heard of. There is only one serious politician left in Europe. Her name is Angela Merkel.

And what of the United States? An election that was supposed to be about domestic policy but has produced little clarity in that regard (perhaps the debates will help) has demonstrated a stark divide on foreign policy.

In the vision of President Barack Obama, America is now in the status-management business: being realistic about its power the better to exercise and preserve it. As for Mitt Romney, he belongs to Putin’s school of foreign policy. The status quo he believes in is that of three decades ago. In this regard he is a closet Russian even as he denounces Moscow.

And so, for Romney, Russia is “without question our number one geopolitical foe,” just like during the Cold War. He is “guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: this century must be an American century,” like the century that saw the Cold War.

In the name of U.S. domination, America needs to throw its weight around, maintaining or increasing Pentagon budgets, refusing to talk to the Taliban, confronting China, giving Israel a green light to attack Iran, and generally being unabashed about U.S. might.

It seems the devastating cost of America’s post-9/11 wars has not dawned on Romney; nor has what they say about a world where U.S. power is unrivaled but insufficient for the United States to impose its will. Read more…

Roger Cohen is  a columnist for The New York Times and International Herald Tribune.

As published in www.nytimes.com on October 1, 2012 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on October 2, 2012, in The International Herald Tribune).


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