The necessary first step for Obama on the international front is to re-brand America in a less insensitive, arrogant way, after eight years of Bush’s policies on Iraq, Afghanistan, global warming and Kyoto, the Patriot Act, illegal wiretaps and torture, Abu Ghuraib, Guantanamo, the secret prisons in Europe, the ABM treaty, failing to deliver on Iran or Korea or the Palestinians, the failed India nuclear deal.
After four years in which Secretary Rice failed to achieve anything of consequence, it got so bad for Rice that the Pope refused to even meet her. Scowcroft said that “the United States is more disliked around the world than at any point in history.”
Obama needs to sell America and American ideals – democracy, free-trade, everything. Shutting down Guantanamo and reaching out to Muslims will help. Let people know what we stand for: defending the weak, advancing the cause of freedom, supporting trade with democracies over dictatorships, and fighting bigotry, fanaticism, ideological dogmas, and the third-world plagues of tyranny, corruption, violence and lawlessness.
We also need to re-establish our legitimacy by showing that we’re playing by the same rules we’re trying to impose on everyone else, that we’re building a lasting global system rather than pursuing the national interests of the moment. We can’t insist “we must get rid of nukes, except ours, and bring dictators to heel, except the ones who are our allies.”
The process of building a new international system and the process of repairing alliances go hand in hand. We need to let others be heard: during the Bush era foreign officials complained constantly that the Bush gang dictated policy without listening to anybody. New players such as the BRIC countries must be allowed to help build the new international system, or else they will ignore it and make their own side deals. “De-Americanize” our policy initiatives by letting the Brits and others (even the French and Germans) take the lead sometimes, seeking out specific leaders, when practical, on specific issues such as the two terror-related problems, arms proliferation and safe havens. And if you’re worried about China’s power, seek a tacit an alliance with India, although the Indians will possibly see that play coming and resist it.
While we bind our alliances together, we also want to create some cracks in other alliances which are not so helpful. Thankfully we are beyond the Cold-War mindset that sees our enemies as part of one big monolith (an intellectual model which was inaccurate even during the Cold War) and can work to split the Chinese from the Russians, the French from the Germans, Islamic radicals from the rest of the Muslim world; free-trade northern Europeans from the protectionists of the Mediterranean. Bismarck would appove.
Seek new tools. Try some purpose-built alliances and seek work-arounds when necessary. Try to have multiple channels for moving forward. Look at regional rather than global strategies when practical. Remind your Foggy Bottom folks that each situation is different and that it is impractical to execute a one-size-fits-all foreign policy.
Some, like McCain, advocated the establishment of a “league of democracies” to replace the UN system. But such a league would consist mostly of the rapidly aging and shrinking white-folks countries who are already on our side anyway. Meanwhile it would alienate everyone else and impel them to form their own alliances. It would also violate WTO rules if it ever veered into trade policy.
At the end of the day, the world is used to having us lead: the world needs stability and leadership, at least to a certain extent. Fareed Zakaria is confident that China will not seek to supplant us as the top superpower; I’m not sure he’s right, but I believe that it would be easier for us to retain the top position than for the Chinese to push us off the pedestal, if we’re smart.
Three times in the last 60 years the world proclaimed, indeed celebrated, our inescapable decline, when we were challenged by the Soviets, OPEC, and the Japanese. We survived them all. With good leadership we should survive the current chaos as well.
If we have good leadership.