[Rushtalk] The Elections, Gridlock and Foreign Policy

Carl Spitzer Winblows at lavabit.com
Sat Dec 29 08:56:54 MST 2012

               The Elections, Gridlock and Foreign Policy
                      November 7, 2012 | 1000 GMT 
                           By George Friedman
The United States held elections last night, and nothing changed. Barack
 Obama remains president. The Democrats remain in control of the Senate
with a non-filibuster-proof majority. The Republicans remain in control
                    of the House of Representatives.
       The national political dynamic has resulted in an extended
 immobilization of the government. With the House -- a body where party
discipline is the norm -- under Republican control, passing legislation
    will be difficult and require compromise. Since the Senate is in
   Democratic hands, the probability of it overriding any unilateral
   administrative actions is small. Nevertheless, Obama does not have
 enough congressional support for dramatic new initiatives, and getting
    appointments through the Senate that Republicans oppose will be
There is a quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson: "That government
     is best which governs the least because its people discipline
 themselves." I am not sure that the current political climate is what
 was meant by the people disciplining themselves, but it is clear that
the people have imposed profound limits on this government. Its ability
  to continue what is already being done has not been curbed, but its
            ability to do much that is new has been blocked.
                      The Plan for American Power
The gridlock sets the stage for a shift in foreign policy that has been
   under way since the U.S.-led intervention in Libya in 2011. I have
argued that presidents do not make strategies but that those strategies
are imposed on them by reality. Nevertheless, it is always helpful that
the subjective wishes of a president and necessity coincide, even if the
                        intent is not the same.
  In previous articles and books, I have made the case that the United
 States emerged as the only global power in 1991, when the Soviet Union
  fell. It emerged unprepared for its role and uncertain about how to
execute it. The exercise of power requires skill and experience, and the
United States had no plan for how to operate in a world where it was not
  faced with a rival. It had global interests but no global strategy.
This period began in 1991 and is now in the process of ending. The first
phase consisted of a happy but illusory period in which it was believed
   that there were no serious threats to the United States. This was
replaced on 9/11 with a phase of urgent reaction, followed by the belief
   that the only interest the United States had was prosecuting a war
                       against radical Islamists.
Both phases were part of a process of fantasy. American power, simply by
   its existence, was a threat and challenge to others, and the world
 remained filled with danger. On the other hand, focusing on one thing
obsessively to the exclusion of all other matters was equally dangerous.
American foreign policy was disproportionate, and understandably so. No
          one was prepared for the power of the United States.
 During the last half of the past decade, the inability to end the wars
   in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with economic problems, convinced
reasonable people that the United States had entered an age of permanent
decline. The sort of power the United States has does not dissipate that
  fast. The disintegration of European unity and the financial crisis
 facing China have left the United States, not surprisingly, still the
  unchallenged global power. The issue is what to do with that power.
    The defeated challenger in the U.S. election, Mitt Romney, had a
memorable and important turn of phrase when he said that you can't kill
your way out of the problems of the Middle East. The point that neither
 Romney nor Obama articulated is what you do instead in the Middle East
                           -- and elsewhere.
Constant use of military force is not an option. See the example of the
 British Empire: Military force was used judiciously, but the preferred
course was avoiding war in favor of political arrangements or supporting
enemies of enemies politically, economically and with military aid. That
was followed by advisers and trainers -- officers for native troops. As
  a last resort, when the balance could not hold and the issue was of
  sufficient interest, the British would insert overwhelming force to
   defeat an enemy. Until, as all empires do, they became exhausted.
The American strategy of the past years of inserting insufficient force
   to defeat an enemy that could be managed by other means, and whose
 ability to harm the United States was limited, would not have been the
  policy of the British Empire. Nor is it a sustainable policy for the
 United States. When war comes, it must be conducted with overwhelming
force that can defeat the enemy conclusively. And war therefore must be
 rare because overwhelming force is hard to come by and enemies are not
  always easy to beat. The constant warfare that has characterized the
       beginning of this century is strategically unsustainable.
                            Libya and Syria
 In my view, the last gasp of this strategy was Libya. The intervention
 there was poorly thought out: The consequences of the fall of Moammar
 Gadhafi were not planned for, and it was never clear why the future of
 Libya mattered to the United States. The situation in Libya was out of
 control long before the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi. It was a case of
insufficient force being applied to an uncertain enemy in a war that did
                   not rise to the level of urgency.
   The U.S. treatment of Syria is very different. The United States'
 unwillingness to involve itself directly with main military force, in
spite of urgings from various directions, is an instance in which even a
potentially important strategic goal -- undermining Iranian influence in
Syria -- could be achieved by depending on regional powers to manage the
problem or to live with it as they choose. Having provided what limited
aid was required to destabilize the Syrian government, the United States
     was content to let the local balance of power take its course.
  It is not clear whether Obama saw the doctrine I am discussing -- he
  certainly didn't see it in Libya, and his Syrian policy might simply
have been a reaction to his miscalculations in Libya. But the subjective
   intentions of a leader are not as important as the realities he is
responding to, however thoughtfully or thoughtlessly. It was clear that
  the United States could not continue to intervene with insufficient
   forces to achieve unclear goals in countries it could not subdue.
Nor could the United States withdraw from the world. It produces almost
one-quarter of the world's GDP; how could it? The historical answer was
     not a constant tempo of intervention but a continual threat of
intervention, rarely fulfilled, coupled with skillful management of the
 balance of power in a region. Even better, when available as a course,
     is to avoid even the threat of intervention or any pretense of
management and let most problems be solved by the people affected by it.
 This is not so much a policy as a reality. The United States cannot be
 the global policeman or the global social worker. The United States is
responsible for pursuing its own interests at the lowest possible cost.
  If withdrawal is impossible, avoiding conflicts that do not involve
 fundamental American interests is a necessity since garrison states --
   nations constantly in a state of war -- have trouble holding on to
   power. Knowing when to go to war is an art, the heart of which is
                     knowing when not to go to war.
One of the hardest things for a young empire to master is the principle
that, for the most part, there is nothing to be done. That is the phase
 in which the United States finds itself at the moment. It is coming to
terms not so much with the limits of power as the nature of power. Great
  power derives from the understanding of the difference between those
things that matter and those that don't, and a ruthless indifference to
 those that don't. It is a hard thing to learn, but history is teaching
                        it to the United States.
                          The Domestic Impasse
  The gridlock which this election has given the U.S. government is a
 suitable frame for this lesson. While Obama might want to launch major
initiatives in domestic policy, he can't. At the same time, he seems not
  to have the appetite for foreign adventures. It is not clear whether
   this is simply a response to miscalculation or a genuine strategic
  understanding, but in either case, adopting a more cautious foreign
  policy will come naturally to him. This will create a framework that
begins to institutionalize two lessons: First, it is rarely necessary to
  go to war, and second, when you do go to war, go with everything you
  have. Obama will follow the first lesson, and there is time for the
      second to be learned by others. He will practice the studied
   indifference that most foreign problems pose to the United States.
    There will be a great deal of unhappiness with the second Obama
administration overseas. As much as the world condemns the United States
when it does something, at least part of the world is usually demanding
  some action. Obama will disappoint, but it is not Obama. Just as the
elections will paralyze him domestically, reality will limit his foreign
policy. Immobilism is something the founders would have been comfortable
 with, both in domestic politics and in foreign policy. The voters have
       given the republic a government that will give them both.
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