The U.S. presidential campaign rumbles on after the debate regarding domestic issues with an intensified focus. The predominant issue of the American economy and what should be the guiding philosophy behind its management dominated the debate and most of the past year’s political discourse. In a few weeks the candidates will turn their debate attention to foreign affairs, and might just have a lot to talk about. The world continues to spin in an unstable orbit that would benefit from clear leadership from the world’s foremost power, and is not about to wait for a campaign schedule to determine a course. Ramparts highlights a few of the many places where the drought in American attention may not be able to be sustained much longer:
- Turkey – Syria : The Syrian internal conflict has been worsening for over a year, and is now a fully fledged civil war with thousands dead. The United States initially supported President Assad as a stabilizing force in the Middle East, infamously referred to as a “reformer” by Secretary of State Clinton, only to find itself completely out of influence as events degenerated into all out conflict. As reformer Assad propped up his regime with one massacre after another, the opposition has radicalized, and outside forces are being drawn in which has significant potential to create a world wide crisis. This past week Syria made several incursions across the Turkish border, resulting in the deaths of Turkish border patrols, and the country that sees itself as the traditional leader of the Islamic world through its Ottoman past and possessing the the largest and most modern military, is not about to take the incursions lying down. The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has declared Turkey “is not far from war”. The obvious complicating feature is that Turkey is a NATO member and the NATO charter says an attack on one member is seen as an attack on all. Does NATO stand by and refuse to supply or help defend its partner showing the NATO pact to essentially be a modern farce, or does it enter in support of Turkey which has declared significant designs on dominance of the region and risk pulling Syria staunch defender Russia further into direct support for Assad? What expansion of the conflict between the regional powers Turkey and Syria would not also draw Israel and Iran directly into the mess? Now that’s a series of events that a “leading from behind” policy will likely result in an America finding itself drawn into a cataclysm with little idea of what the outcome would be. I would think this would be an excellent subject for our incumbent and presumptive president to explain their grasp of events, before events grasp them.
- Venezuela : Today is Venezuela’s Presidential election between military strongman and proto-socialist Hugo Chavez and state governor Henrique Capriles. Chavez is unique dictator in that he has been willing to put his form of redistribution in front of the people for elections, although most in Venezuela would suggest that controlling the military, security forces, and media as well as the constant spigot of petro dollars to “support” voters in making their decision, has made Chavez nearly unbeatable. This year may prove differently, as a candidate with special allure has put the old dictator on the defense. Henrique Capriles is a young governor with enormous appeal to the young, and disaffected middle class in Venezuela, and for the first time Chavez’s old tricks are not having an impact in dividing the opposition’s organization or intensity among the population. Chavez, struggling with metastatic cancer, is looking old and feeble, a dangerous visual for the macho Latin persona he has always put forward, and the young handsome and highly capable governor Capriles has been fearless in campaigning in poor neighborhoods felt to be locked up by the Chavez machine. If Venezuela surprises the world and defeats Chavez, a man who has used Venezuela’s huge oil reserves as a bank account to prop up banana socialist fantasy dictators such as Castro of Cuba and Evo Morales of Bolivia, the United States will need to be ready to help nurture the return to free enterprise and personal freedom. Both U.S. candidates should be able to express themselves in depth on this issue, and President Obama should explain why Hugo Chavez states Obama is the candidate he supports and feels comfortable with.
- China – Japan : Two old foes are heating up their rivalry in the East China Sea and the United States could find itself in the middle of instability that will have direct inflections on the world’s economy, security, and stability. Although the current issue seems to be regarding some innocuous uninhabited rocks in the middle of the ocean, the deeper considerations are deadly serious. Two oil poor countries with massive economies in continuous need for energy supplies are looking to deep sea deposits of oil that lie beneath the waves and the presumptive ownership of these little islands allow each to claim sovereignty over the oil. China, the largest country and progressively larger economy sees itself as holding the rightful hegemony over its regional sphere, and Japan, neutralized by pacifist influences since its disastrous military oligarchy led it to complete destruction in World War Two, has been late to the game but is starting to actively defend what it sees as its national interests. The United States under President Obama has declared a Pacific centric foreign policy, with a pre-meditated reduction of influence in Europe and Middle East. It would be an excellent topic to here the two candidates explain how they would respond to an escalation of hostile acts by the two hugely important Asian countries. Even a cold war between two of the world’s largest economies, and reawakening of martial instincts in the quiescent Japanese personality would not be a healthy direction for the world’s economy or stability.
- The continuing Euro crisis: The Prime Minister of Europe’s largest economy, Germany’s Angela Merkel, is heading into a hornet’s nest this week when she visits Athens to interact with the Greek government and discuss the means by which Greece can stay in the Euro zone. The symbolism of a German leader dictating to Greek politicians the actions they must take to be a partner in an alliance has nasty overtones to a similar more subservient position for the Greeks 70 years ago. The memories of the Nazi overlords remains fresh, and despite Greece having obviously playing the predominant role in getting themselves into this economic mess, they are none to anxious to have a German Chancellor dictate their way out of it. The changes in Greek society required to support an economic union with the rest of Europe are proving extremely difficult to stomach, and the elements of economic collapse remain just over the horizon. Merkel is in the unenviable position of convincing hostile Greeks to accept the draconian terms of receiving crucial German financial support, then having to turn around and explain to frugal German voters if despite all the investment, the Euro collapses anyway. Now that’s a nasty situation that both U.S. candidates better show a deep understanding of, when it comes to a continent that has seen nothing but internecine wars for the past thousand years. A coming return to deep recession is potentially the tinderbox that could set all of the superficial modernity and passiveness into turmoil.
The U.S. electorate would like to presume that foreign instabilities are faraway secondary affairs to the average American life, but reality and 110 years of America being drawn into foreign conflicts would suggest otherwise. Ramparts holds the opinion that “leading from behind” is the wrong end of the donkey and will lead to smelly and dirty conflict more than prevent it. The debate regarding the United States position in the world will hopefully show both candidates have a grasp of the stakes.