The U.S. Approach To Foreign Policy

It seems to me….

Adroit geo-strategists take new realities into account as they try to imagine how global politics will unfold. In the foreign policy business, however, inertia is a powerful force and ‘adroit’ a little-known concept.” ~ Stephen Kinzer[1].

Foreign policy is about building new relationships, expanding markets and opportunities, and strengthening alliances and values; it secures the foundations of the liberal world order in which we live[2]. And the world has appreciably changed over the last quarter century.

Many countries that previously were reflexively anti-American are now increasingly pro-American. India for many years attempted to maintain a policy of nonalignment but now, especially since the election of its new prime minister, Narendra Modi, has become much more pro-American.

Indonesia is Asia’s next-most populous democracy — with the world’s largest Muslim population. Here, too, the U.S. is deepening a relationship with a country that once routinely denounced Washington but is now far more welcoming to it primarily due to President Obama.

Thirty years ago, Mexico was defined by its anti-Americanism. Politicians routinely blamed the U.S. government and CIA for everything from riots and disorder to bad weather. And it wasn’t just the regime — the public shared the suspicion of Yankee imperialists.

Today Mexico is a different country. Its economy is inextricably linked to its neighbor to the north, its politicians regard America as their natural partner, and the culture has become Americanized in many respects. Despite the demeaning way in which so many U.S. politicians speak about Mexican immigration, Mexico’s diplomats and politicians know that their country’s interests are tightly aligned with Washington’s.

The U.S. still remains the planet’s preeminent economic and military force but this no longer necessarily automatically translates into geopolitical influence. Regardless of conservative accusations, the U.S.’s ability to dictate foreign policy will continue to weaken partially as a result of globalization. Emerging nations are increasingly likely to pursue their own agenda rather than acquiesce to U.S. influence.

Anti-U.S. angst greatly increased due to the policies of President George W. Bush and while substantially improved under the current president, criticism continues following revelations of U.S. intelligence agency spying and torture. As China’s influence increases, nations, especially those in Asia, are aware they must avoid alienating their neighbor at time when sentiment in the U.S. increasingly disapproves of foreign commitment in what is perceived as other nation’s problems.

The U.S. remains overinvested in the Middle East, a crisis-prone region of dwindling importance to U.S. national interests. The United States has once again allowed itself to become engrossed in another Middle Eastern morass where those countries most directly affected have for the most part refused to make any serious commitment knowing from past experience that the U.S. eventually will send in the cavalry and come to their rescue.

Any time better trained and equipped forces can consistently be routed by an opposition of less than 10 percent their size should demonstrate the problem is psychological and not one of military strength. We have failed to learn that wars ultimately are won or lost in the hearts and minds of those most affected rather than on the field of battle. The U.S. has relied on its military as the primary instrument of its foreign policy for too long and now when confronted with a challenge showing it no longer to be effective, has refused to change its response. We have repeatedly dug ourselves into a hole in the Middle East – it is time to stop digging.

Asia, on the other hand, is the future. Of the four largest economies, three are in Asia, if measured by purchasing-power parity. China is now the world’s second-largest economy — the largest measured by purchasing-power parity. And yet, its voting share in the International Monetary Fund is equivalent to that of the Netherlands and Belgium combined. Congress — mostly because of Republican opposition — refuses to pass legislation that would change this even though it would not reduce the U.S.’s voting share in the IMF.

The Republican rhetoric on China, Mexico, and immigration reveals a breakdown of the party’s ideological vision and internal discipline[3]. For decades, Republicans favored internationalism, engagement, and free markets. In 2016, it is quite possible that the party’s nominee will be populist, nativist, and protectionist.

Part of the problem is that China’s government remains a black box and few people understand what is happening there — which makes it easy to ascribe malign intentions to Beijing’s every move. Take, for example, the Chinese central bank’s recent decision to allow its currency to fall — instantly denounced by politicians in Washington as an effort to flood the U.S. market with cheap goods. Over the past few years, the renminbi had appreciated substantially against the dollar and yen. The Chinese government appeared to be responding to Western pressure to allow market forces to reign, which in this case made the currency fall. That is why the International Monetary Fund praised Beijing’s decision to devalue. And when the renminbi fell too far, Beijing spent an estimated $200 billion trying to prop it up — hardly the actions of a government trying to devalue. As with the stock market, Beijing’s policies have been inconsistent and ineffective, but that does not mean that they are evil.

Henry Kissinger said “It might turn out that over time we determine that it is not possible to cooperate with China.” “But we should exhaust every effort to have a serious, constructive relationship. If not, the tensions will build, misunderstandings will grow, and I worry that we would find ourselves in an atmosphere similar to that of Europe before World War I — a war no one wanted but no one knew how to stop.”

The Obama administration was very wrong to oppose the Asian Infrastructure Bank. The bank is one more way to fund infrastructure projects in Asia where there is substantial need for more money to fund large government projects. If China can’t set up a regional bank to fund bridges, what influence is it legitimately allowed to have?

We also should be mindful that while there are numerous things we can and should do to pursue and defend our interests overseas, there are times when we need to invest in America rather than on badly designed foreign involvements — and then speak to the world not from moral superiority but through positive example. We have failed to established realistic national priorities, reacting to world events as they occur making up our foreign policy in response rather than with proactive forethought.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Stephen Kinzer is a United States author, journalist, and academic.

[2] Portions of the following were either taken from or are based on:

Zakaria, Fareed. Will Washington allow the pursuit of positive foreign policy?,, 30 January 2015.

[3] Zakaria, Fareed. Republican candidates bash China at our own peril, Washington Post,, 3 September 2015.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Anti-Americanism, Asia, Beijing, Belgium, China, CIA, Europe, Foreign Policy, George W. Bush, Globalization, Globalization, Henry Kissinger, IMF, India, Indonesia, Interdependence, International Monetary Fund, Markets, Mexico, Mexico, Middle-East, Military, Muslim, Narendra Modi, Netherlands, Obama, Renminbi, Secretary of State, World, World War I and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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