Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the post-World War II international order was based on a web of multilateral and bilateral agreements and institutions as well as the doctrine of mutually assured destruction between the two military superpowers. The protracted period of peace and relative stability created the political and economic circumstances that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a result of this development the United States of America emerged as the sole superpower. This new situation, at the minimum, should have called for an in-depth reevaluation of American foreign policy. It also should have led to a new national security strategy, commensurate with the changing international realities and the diplomatic, economic, financial and military resources of the United States.
During the ensuing transition period, the vast majority of nation states embraced both the American free market economic and political models. Yet, following this promising beginning, crises that have emerged in the last quarter century have eroded the trust in the United States’ ability to unilaterally manage the challenges to its supremacy.
Economically, the prosperity of the Reagan years, coupled with the myth of the “peace dividend” under the Clinton Administration, led to the growth of budget deficits that have increased exponentially under the Bush and Obama Administrations. Meanwhile, the contradictions in the industry and the financial sectors of the American economy have been accompanied by companies moving their production and keeping profits abroad. At the same time, the burgeoning service sector has been unable to proportionately compensate for the lost employment opportunities. This, in turn, has called attention to the problems of unemployment, which have weakened the middle class and have contributed to the rise of inequality in American society.
The struggling American economy has exhibited considerable weaknesses in supporting the fundamentally unprincipled and thus often erratic foreign policies of the Bush and the Obama Administrations. Lack of differentiation, rooted in insufficient understanding of other nations’ history and culture, has rendered it impossible to formulate coherent and realistic foreign policy. The single-minded pursuit of spreading American values even where societies are neither culturally nor institutionally ready to integrate them, is a recipe for opposition and often for violent resentment. If this unilateral conduct is manifest itself by blatant disregard of the allies and international organizations, another self-generated vacuum is established that, in turn, always leads to false narratives and the abuse of mass communication. To make matters worse, those who are responsible for the situation blame others, while the unresolved problems fester, metastasize and eventually escalate into real catastrophes.
A case in point is the visionless and misguided reaction of the first Bush Administration to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting power vacuum in Central and Eastern Europe. Reagan’s dictum “We win, they lose”, has been interpreted as a green light to conduct a wholesale offensive in promoting the values of democracy, individual liberty and free market economy in countries that were not ready to make the abrupt transition from one-party dictatorship and a planned economy to a political and economic model that called for individual initiative and collective self-discipline. In spite of having integrated most of the former communist countries into NATO and the European Union, the United States’ policy of speedy inclusion has not enhanced the continent’s stability.
Respecting the People’s Republic of China, the United States has placed itself between the Scylla of its global and regional security obligations and the Charybdis of China’s emergence as the second most powerful economy in the world. More explicitly, politicians of both parties in Washington, D.C. have ignored China’s overall strategy which, since Teng Hsia Ping, has been based on the dynamism of its economy . Fundamentally, this strategy occupies the vacuum that exists, because of the protracted crisis in the world economy, and converts its newfound economic prowess into political gains. Moreover, China’s activities in the South China Sea and beyond indicate that its economic and political strategies are closely synchronized with its military doctrine which is underpinned by the ethos of its place in the world.
In the greater Middle East that encompasses North Africa and parts of Southeast Asia, the tribal nature of the societies and their numerous failed attempts at modernization have cemented the notion of victimhood. In this environment, repeated interventions in the internal affairs of individual states, the Israeli-Arab conflict, and the sectarian-religious controversies have rarely contributed to the de escalation of tensions.
Clearly, the world is in flux. The proverbial window of opportunity to halt the decaying structures of stability and peace to the European, Asian, Middle Eastern regions is closing. In order to accomplish this global objective, the unilateral approach should gradually be substituted by comprehensive effort and responsible cooperation among the leading states of the continents. For this reason, it is incumbent upon the voters in the United States to understand that the domestic and international circumstances call for a new paradigm. This new paradigm, in turn, requires a new mentality, corresponding institutions, and a different type of leadership. Such a leadership must be based upon a clear understanding of the problems facing the United States and the rest of the world and their solutions. Whether an open minded leader with the abilities to formulate and execute such a vision would emerge in November is open to question.