It’s easy to weary of the nearing US election. Constant coverage looms in the UK – even though Britons have no say in its affairs nor, often, a connection to it. Regardless, decisions over the future of the world’s last superpower warrant our attention perhaps even more than elections at home. The neck-and-neck nature of it all makes it just that more fascinating. Why? The upcoming November 6th election has matured into a fundamental question: what is the role and nature of the United States in the 21st century world?
The last four years saw one answer to this, expressed prominently in the approaches of ‘outreach;’ of ‘leading from behind;’ and of a rejection of neo-liberalism. It merits asking – did they prove successful?
Outreach floundered first, allowing the Iranian dictatorship to strengthen, even broadening its operations to illicit weapons smuggling across East Africa. Sanctions have yet to produced desired changes; the only clear misfortune to have befallen Tehran – revolt against its Syrian ally – was accidental. Broadly, the Middle East stands more unstable than ever: Lebanon has become a second front in the Saudi-Iranian proxy war raging across Syria. Libya, an unnecessary campaign ‘led from behind,’ left a country without real governance – and so destabilised Mali that further French and US deployments are needed to contain growing Islamist strength. The tragedy at Benghazi, turned absurd when Susan Rice, the American UN ambassador, attributed it to an obscure video, makes for a poignant symbol of failure in one of the world’s key regions.
The death of Osama bin Laden stands as a notable success…
The new lynchpin to US foreign policy, the ‘Pivot to the Pacific,’ remains hazy to the point that no-one, apparently including the White House, knows what it means in practice. (Why else would the administration so asininely ensure the means for its enforcement are lacking?) Meanwhile, US allies like Israel are spurned, dismissed as the UK was over the Falklands, or abandoned as Poland and the Czech Republic were. The death of Osama bin Laden stands as a notable success – but it seems a very small one indeed.
Domestically, if neo-liberalism failed in 2008, Obamanomics hardly improved matters. Early October this year saw triumphal proclamations of a four-year low in unemployment – deceptively optimistic as it means 7.8% unemployment represents four years’ progress. Progress, bought at the cost of a $1 trillion spending deficit every year since 2008 – leading to calculations that US public debt at the end of FY 2013 will top $20 trillion.
…it filed for bankruptcy in late 2011…
Worse, debt combines with policy to bar recovery: note the administration’s arbitrary squashing of the Keystone XL pipeline, squandering its vast economic potential. Better yet, consider the case of solar-panel maker Solyndra. Symbolic of current economic policy, it received over $500 million in government loans, even receiving praise and publicity from the President himself in 2010. Nevertheless, it filed for bankruptcy in late 2011 amid massive losses. Solyndra underscores a recurring theme from the past four years – growing government investment; the ascendance of politics over common sense in economic decision-making and, finally, ever-diminishing returns. Hardly the hallmarks of success.
Does Mitt Romney’s alternative promise much better? Possibly not. Romney’s flip-flopping suggests a lack of backbone to see through changes so clearly needed; his lacklustre performance at the foreign policy debate does little to inspire. But, by fielding a cunning businessman and adroit policy wonk – as opposed to 2008’s OAP/hillbilly combination – the Republicans arguably gave some grounds for optimism.
…the last four years badly damaged American interests…
What is undeniable, however, is that the last four years badly damaged American interests and prosperity. This is not a matter of political interpretation, of left or right, Democrat or Republican, but of objective fact. Conciliation to foes; timidity in leadership; the economics of make-believe: this vision of a 21st Century America has been tried and found wanting.
If there is to be Hope, as 2008 promised, the time has come for Change.