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The balance of power in the us foreign policy

Each candidate must promise things that are beyond his power to deliver. No candidate could expect to be elected by emphasizing how little power the office actually has and how voters should therefore expect little from him.

So candidates promise great, transformative programs. What the winner actually can deliver depends upon what other institutions, nations and reality will allow him. They distrusted government in general and the office of the president in particular. To achieve anything substantial, the president must create a coalition of political interests to shape decision-making in other branches of the government.

Yet at the same time — and this is the main paradox of American political culture — the presidency is seen as a decisive institution and the person holding that office is seen as being of overriding importance. Constraints in the Foreign Policy Arena The president has somewhat more authority in foreign policy, but only marginally so. He is trapped by public opinion, congressional intrusion, and above all, by the realities of geopolitics.

Thus, while during his 2000 presidential campaign George W. Bush argued vehemently against nation-building, once in office, he did just that with precisely the consequences he had warned of on the campaign trail. The power often ascribed to the U. But even so, people — including leaders — all over the world still take that power very seriously. They want to believe that someone is in control of what is happening.

The thought that no one can control something as vast and complex as a country or the world is a frightening thought. Conspiracy theories offer this comfort, too, since they assume that while evil may govern the world, at least the world is governed.

There is, of course, an alternative viewpoint, namely that while no one actually is in charge, the world is still predictable as long as you understand the impersonal forces guiding it. This is an uncomfortable the balance of power in the us foreign policy unacceptable notion to those who would make a difference in the world.

For such people, the presidential race — like political disputes the world over — is of great significance. Ultimately, the president does not have the power to transform U. Instead, American interests, the structure of the world and the limits of power determine foreign policy.

In the broadest sense, current U. During that period, the United States has sought to balance and rebalance the international system to contain potential threats in the Eastern Hemisphere, which has been torn by wars. The Western Hemisphere in general, and North America in particular, has not.

No president could afford to risk allowing conflict to come to North America. At one level, presidents do count: The strategy they pursue keeping the Western Hemisphere conflict-free matters.

During World War I, the United States intervened after the Germans began to threaten Atlantic sea-lanes and just weeks after the fall of the czar. At this point in the war, the European system seemed about to become unbalanced, with the Germans coming to dominate it. This was called isolationism, but that is a simplistic description of the strategy of relying on the balance of power to correct itself and only intervening as a last resort.

During the Cold War, the United States adopted the reverse strategy of actively maintaining the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere via a process of continual intervention.

It should be remembered that American deaths in the Cold War were just under 100,000 including Vietnam, Korea and lesser conflicts versus about 116,000 U.

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The decision to maintain active balancing was a response to a perceived policy failure in World War II. The argument was that prior intervention would have prevented the collapse of the European balance, perhaps blocked Japanese adventurism, the balance of power in the us foreign policy ultimately resulted in fewer deaths than the 400,000 the United States suffered in that conflict. A consensus emerged from World War II that an "internationalist" stance of active balancing was superior to allowing nature to take its course in the hope that the system would balance itself.

The Cold War was fought on this strategy. During the Vietnam era, however, a viewpoint emerged in the Democratic Party that the strategy of active balancing actually destabilized the Eastern Hemisphere, causing unnecessary conflict and thereby alienating other countries.

This viewpoint maintained that active balancing increased the likelihood of conflict, caused anti-American coalitions to form, and most important, overstated the risk of an unbalanced system and the consequences of imbalance. Vietnam was held up as an example of excessive balancing. The counterargument was that while active balancing might generate some conflicts, World War I and World War II showed the consequences of allowing the balance of power to take its course.

This viewpoint maintained that failing to engage in active and even violent balancing with the Soviet Union would increase the possibility of conflict on the worst terms possible for the United States. Thus, even in the case of Vietnam, active balancing prevented worse outcomes.

The argument between those who want the international system to balance itself and the argument of those who want the United States to actively manage the balance has raged ever since George McGovern ran against Richard Nixon in 1972. He did not move suddenly into this policy, as many of his supporters expected he would.

Balance of Power - Balance of power since 1945

Instead, he eased into it, simultaneously increasing U. Syria also highlights his movement toward the stra te gy of relying on regional balances.

Obama has expected the Saudis and Turks to block the Iranians by undermining al Assad, not because the United States asks them to do so but because it is in their interest to do so. In other words, Obama does not believe that the lessons learned from World War I and World War II apply to the current global system, and that as in Syria, the global power should leave managing the regional balance to local powers.

Romney and Active Balancing Romney takes the view that active balancing is necessary. In the case of Syria, Romney would argue that by letting the system address the problem, Obama has permitted Iran to probe and retreat without consequences and failed to offer a genuine solution to the core issue. That core issue is that the The balance of power in the us foreign policy. Romney has cited the re-emergence of Russia as a potential threat to American interests that requires U.

He would also argue that should the United States determine that China represented a threat, the current degree of force being used to balance it would be insufficient. Allowing the balance of power to take its own course only delays American intervention and raises the ultimate price.

To him, the Cold War ended as it did because of active balancing by the United States, including war when necessary. I also get the sense that Romney is less sensitive to global opinion than Obama. Romney would note that Obama has failed to sway global opinion in any decisive way despite great expectations around the world for an Obama presidency. But during the Cold War and the jihadist wars, world opinion resented the United States for intervening.

For Romney, global resentment cannot be a guide for U. Where Obama would argue that anti-American sentiment fuels terrorism and anti-American coalitions, Romney would argue that ideology and interest, not sentiment, cause any given country to object to the leading world power.

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Attempting to appease sentiment would thus divert U. Reality I have tried to flesh out the kinds of argument each would make if they were not caught in a political campaign, where their goal is not setting out a coherent foreign policy but simply embarrassing the other and winning votes. While nothing suggests this is an ineffective course for a presidential candidate, it forces us to look for actions and hints to determine their actual positions.

Based on such actions and hints, I would argue that their disagreement on foreign policy boils down to relying on regional balances versus active balancing.

But I would not necessarily say that this is the choice the country faces.

  1. There are essentially three types of international orders. The Cold War ended with a whimper, not the civilization-ending "bang" some analysts predicted.
  2. Instead, he eased into it, simultaneously increasing U. Had Japan not attacked the United States, it is unclear that Franklin Roosevelt would have had the freedom to do what he did.
  3. The argument between those who want the international system to balance itself and the argument of those who want the United States to actively manage the balance has raged ever since George McGovern ran against Richard Nixon in 1972.
  4. Obama has expected the Saudis and Turks to block the Iranians by undermining al Assad, not because the United States asks them to do so but because it is in their interest to do so.

As I have argued from the outset, the American presidency is institutionally weak despite its enormous prestige. It is limited constitutionally, politically and ultimately by the actions of others. Had Japan not attacked the United States, it is unclear that Franklin Roosevelt would have had the freedom to do what he did. The world shapes U.

The more active the world, the fewer choices presidents have and the smaller those choices are. Obama has sought to create a space where the United States can disengage from active balancing. Doing so falls within his constitutional powers, and thus far has been politically possible, too.

But whether the international system would allow him to continue along this path should he be re-elected is open to question. Jimmy Carter had a similar vision, but the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan wrecked it.

The Balance of Power in World Politics

Presidents make history, but not on their own terms. They are constrained and harried on all sides by reality.

U.S. Foreign Policy and the (Blessed) Pains of Checks and Balances

In selecting a president, it is important to remember that candidates will say what they need to say to be elected, but even when they say what they mean, they will not necessarily be able to pursue their goals. There are two fairly clear foreign policy outlooks in this election.

  1. Syria also highlights his movement toward the stra te gy of relying on regional balances.
  2. Nor do states generally balance against threats.
  3. The strategy they pursue keeping the Western Hemisphere conflict-free matters.
  4. Joseph Nye, for example, suggested that a U.
  5. In his victory speech of 6 March 1991, Bush called for a "new world order" that would enable the United Nations to fulfill its obligation to provide for the collective security of the weaker nations, and for a U.

The degree to which the winner matters, however, is unclear, though knowing the inclinations of presidential candidates regardless of their ability to pursue them has some value. In the end, though, the U. He can at most guide, and frequently he cannot even do that. Putting the presidency in perspective allows us to keep our debates in perspective as well.