9/24/2008 © 2008 Stratfor 2
Obama’s Foreign Policy Stance
Editor’s Note: This is part two of a four-part report by Stratfor founder and Chief Intelligence Officer George Friedman on the U.S. presidential debate on foreign policy, to be held Sept. 26. Stratfor is a private, non-partisan intelligence service with no preference for one candidate over the other. We are interested in analyzing and forecasting the geopolitical impact of the election and, with this series, seek to answer two questions: What is the geopolitical landscape that will confront the next president, and what foreign policy proposals would a President McCain or a President Obama bring to bear? For media interviews, email PR@stratfor.com or call 512-744-4309.
By George Friedman
Barack Obama is the Democratic candidate for president. His advisers in foreign policy are generally Democrats. Together they carry with them an institutional memory of the Democratic Party’s approach to foreign policy, and are an expression of the complexity and divisions of that approach. Like the their Republican counterparts, in many ways they are going to be severely constrained as to what they can do both by the nature of the global landscape and American resources. But to some extent, they will also be constrained and defined by the tradition they come from. Understanding that tradition and Obama’s place is useful in understanding what an Obama presidency would look like in foreign affairs.
The most striking thing about the Democratic tradition is that it presided over the beginnings of the three great conflicts that defined the 20th century: Woodrow Wilson and World War I, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and World War II, and Harry S. Truman and the Cold War. (At this level of analysis, we will treat the episodes of the Cold War such as Korea, Vietnam or Grenada as simply subsets of one conflict.) This is most emphatically not to say that had Republicans won the presidency in 1916, 1940 or 1948, U.S. involvement in those wars could have been avoided.
Patterns in Democratic Foreign Policy
But it does give us a framework for considering persistent patterns of Democratic foreign policy. When we look at the conflicts, four things become apparent.
First, in all three conflicts, Democrats postponed the initiation of direct combat as long as possible. In only one, World War I, did Wilson decide to join the war without prior direct attack. Roosevelt maneuvered near war but did not enter the war until after Pearl Harbor. Truman also maneuvered near war but did not get into direct combat until after the North Korean invasion of South Korea. Indeed, even Wilson chose to go to war to protect free passage on the Atlantic. More important, he sought to prevent Germany from defeating the Russians and the Anglo-French alliance and to stop the subsequent German domination of Europe, which appeared possible. In other words, the Democratic approach to war was reactive. All three presidents reacted to events on the surface, while trying to shape them underneath the surface.
Second, all three wars were built around coalitions. The foundation of the three wars was that other nations were at risk and that the United States used a predisposition to resist (Germany in the first two wars, the Soviet Union in the last) as a framework for involvement. The United States under Democrats did not involve itself in war unilaterally. At the same time, the United States under Democrats made certain that the major burdens were shared by allies. Millions died in World War I, but the United States suffered 100,000 dead.
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