THOUGH it was a tight US presidential election, which was further compounded by the Hurricane Sandy, one thing which has been very clear from the beginning of the campaign is that the American public has no more appetite for any more far-away, complicated and costly wars.
The last presidential debate between the incumbent Democratic candidate President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Gov. Mitt Romney sent a clear message to the extent observers found hardly any difference between the two on foreign policy issues, despite a clear division on domestic issues from the economy to dealing with abortion or illegal immigrants. Romney even went a step further saying that he, more or less, supports Obama’s policy of withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan no matter what happens. In effect, billions of dollars and hundreds of dead and wounded American servicemen and women have been lost for nothing.
The war of choice waged by George W. Bush against Afghanistan and Iraq, driven mainly by a neoconservative agenda, which was to dominate the region, eliminate the threat of Al-Qaeda, put the region on the road to democracy and control the region’s resources to support the grand design of having the unchallenged American century, where the US supremacy politically, militarily and economically will be consolidated.
When the US troops marched through Baghdad in the shock and awe campaign, American historian George Kennedy, known for his voluminous work on the rise and fall of superpowers, wrote the march resembled that of the British Army before, with the intent of redrawing a Middle East map, but who were forced later to leave the country. The simple lesson drawn by Kennedy is when military expenditure outstrips the economic means the end result is a shrinking role and the start of the decline and eventual fall. As Kennedy points out, it is a lesson that the United States can’t escape.
Obama’s new doctrine of leading from behind was evidenced in the case of Libyan revolt where the US avoided its direct involvement on the ground. In other cases it is relying on technology like drone attacks against Al-Qaeda targets taking into consideration the human and economic cost of a military presence. However, there is still a long way to arrest the decline in the face of an emerging Chinese power.
The clear effort by Romney to paint and remold his image as a moderate candidate not keen on shooting first or not apologizing to others following the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi indicates he is sidelining neocons in his camp. And that sidelining is a result of harsh economic and political reality in terms of diminishing resources to spend on diplomatic and military adventures abroad.
Are we back to the era of isolationism that characterized parts of US history? That could be and for a justifiable reason as it has happened before. The American public is fed up with the ongoing problems of the old world. Interesting enough, the last big debate between isolationists and those calling for world engagement took place during the World War II. Franklin Roosevelt, the last great US leader and the only one elected for a third term, was suspected of harboring feelings for making the United States join the war with their allies.
Roosevelt knew very well the United States could not live in peace if Germany, Japan and Italy were to win the war. That was why some historical documentation indicated Roosevelt knew about Japanese plans to attack Pearl Harbor and decided to allow it take place so as to impact a change in political public opinion and allow for the US to engage in the war with their allies.
But then US resources and political and economic capital were in good shape and could allow it for such engagements to take place.
That is not the case now and the challenge now is how the United States can live within its means.