Despite the jobs, jobs, jobs mentality of recent political ads on American television, voters would be remiss not to consider the foreign policy issues going on in the world today that have been, are, and continue to be an influence in American Presidential elections. Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama both have to address the following four major issues at hand and the underlying question of who they will appoint as their ever-important Secretary of State. Of course, international affairs are a heady brew of relationships, history, and decisions, but this is a basic overview of what’s to come before November 2012:
Euro zone, Economy, and Exports
With the latest round of Greek elections ending in an actual coalition government with Antonis Samaras as Prime Minister, the uncertainty of the Euro zone is relatively mitigated. However, the latest economic crisis of the Grexit illustrated further just how interconnected global economies have become. Germany will certainly shoulder a great deal of the financial burden just by virtue of it having weathered the economic storm better than its Euro neighbors. Trade partnerships and agreements are not the only facet of the system that connects the E.U. and U.S. The world watched as Obama addressed a tense group at the G20 last week in Mexico, saying it is in everyone’s interest to see Europe do well. It's in everyone interest that the U.S. do well too, and Obama will need to find a way to articulate further his Congressional frustrations and concrete economic plan in light of Romney's "I managed a business, I can manage the U.S. economy" stance.
Ever increasing, however, is the interconnectivity of value and supply chains for consumer goods, tying the U.S. not just to the E.U., but also the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China). According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), South-South trade has been increasing, and now accounts for half of developing country trade, as a result of the worry that their economies will suffer even more than they already have as a result of the First World’s economic and monetary/regulatory regime problems. This fact may be the thin thread keeping their economies from shrinking, but doesn’t contribute to growth.
Export promotion is also a tied-in issue. With manufacturing jobs on a steep decline, Americans have learned to rely on imports. However, in order to shore up that employment sector and the fact that 95% of the consumer market is outside of the States, the candidates will have to address the issue of increasing exports. President Obama will most likely cite his signing of the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, and his reorganization of government agencies in order to make entering the international markets easier for small and medium-sized businesses. Changes are slow to come and though Romney has revealed his 59-point jobs plan, it doesn’t directly address export promotion.
As Mother Jones points out consistently, we are still at war. In a June 22, 2011 speech, the president stated that 10,000 troops would be removed from Afghanistan by the end of this summer, with 23,000 additional troops leaving at the end of the summer of 2012.He also said that “our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.”
This would be more than a year into the next term, which means it is an issue that will come up before November. Global funds have not been fully allocated for the Afghan security forces, a fact the next President will have to make a priority. The relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai is tenuous at best and needs to be managed by the next administration. How will the next administration walk the tightrope of protecting U.S. soldiers and innocent Afghans while fostering counter-terrorism activities all on a budget? Mitt Romney will need to state a clear plan to stick to the gradual troop withdrawal while President Obama articulates a policy on next steps. What does a ‘support mission’ really entail, not just in terms of the military, but also in the costs to citizens? Conflicting statements from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and other officials will need to be cleared up.
Mohamed Morsi was just elected as Egypt’s first democratic, non-military leader. The revolution is still ongoing in Syria and haven’t resulted in truly democratic elections in Tunisia, Libya, or Yemen – if they will ever happen. Perhaps at one point, the U.S. thought of itself as the greatest exporter of democracy and freedom, but the world is finding out that American democracy is not one size fits all. With Romney calling for immediate action to arm an unknown rebel group in Syria and Republicans criticizing the President’s decisions to ‘lead from behind’ and use NATO forces in Libya, the region is as complicated as ever in the eyes of the American voting public.
Of course, Israel is fearful of all the regional change, but Morsi did declare today he would keep intact all existing treaties in Egypt, which would presumably include the 1979 the Camp David Accords. The candidates, and certainly the next Administration, will have to create new or maintain old relationships, the true test of a savvy foreign relations practitioner. Obama seems to be reasonably well liked in the region and Romney at some point during the campaign will have to demonstrate his abilities in this arena, even if he thinks the focus should be on the U.S. economy and jobs. It’s all related. As Egypt goes, so goes the Middle East, and access to oil.
Perhaps this is an over-simplified explanation of the situation in the region but here it is: an ongoing mess. Despite the ‘Warrior in Chief’ title bestowed on the president , he did officially, thankfully, end the war in Iraq. However, the issue of fighting in Iraq is not going away and neither is the influence of Iran. The relationship with Israel is again an important point. Despite Obama’s somewhat cooler-than-normal interactions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he has said the bond between the two countries is “unbreakable.” Both candidate and president will need to stress their policies towards diplomatic versus military actions, knowing and saying that both do not necessarily go hand in hand.