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US politics and Foreign Policy. David J. Lorenzo Foreign Policy Institute Taipei, ROC March 4, 2011. Outline Part One. Discussion of domestic US politics Ideology Actors Issues and trends Obama administration and critics Exercise. Review of Basic Elements: Ideological Orientations.

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us politics and foreign policy

US politics and Foreign Policy

David J. Lorenzo

Foreign Policy Institute

Taipei, ROC

March 4, 2011

outline part one
Outline Part One

Discussion of domestic US politics

  • Ideology
  • Actors
  • Issues and trends
  • Obama administration and critics
  • Exercise
review of basic elements ideological orientations
Review of Basic Elements: Ideological Orientations

The US contains several ideological traditions.

This means that, intellectually, political discourse is not always consistent.

That does not mean, however, that the range of acceptable political positions, or the landscape covered by political parties, is very wide. Both are surprisingly narrow, though at certain times (1930s, 1960s and today) that scope widened to include socialist and much more rightist alternatives.


Perhaps the most important political tradition is liberalism. This tradition can be traced to Locke and other early modern European thinkers.

As a tradition, it emphasizes the concepts of individualism, freedoms, rights, procedural safeguards, limited government, private property.

These concepts are embedded in traditional American political discourse, in important documents (Declaration of Independence) and structurally in the Constitution.

forms of liberalism
Forms of liberalism

In the US, liberalism is expressed in at least two forms:

  • A classical form that tends towards strict individualism. It places emphasis on the smallest government possible and the benign workings of the market. Government should provide law and order, military defense, courts and justice, and generally defend rights.
  • A form of New Liberalism that looks more favorably on collective action through state institutions. It is more suspicious of markets and places emphasis on government as a regulator and the provider of important social goods, such as pensions, healthcare and job security.
classical liberalism
Classical liberalism
  • Contemporary classical liberalism informs several different strands of political activism
    • Pro-business activists: emphasize the free market as a solution to many problems (education, healthcare, infrastructure), few regulations of economic activity, low taxes, support for businesses (advantageous trade agreements, support for farmers and industries in the form of protectionism and subsidies)
    • Libertarians: share the business emphasis on small government and low taxes, but also emphasize the need to remove government from individual lives, including support for business and agriculture.
    • Fiscal conservatives: government should not spend money on social welfare programs or in promoting and supporting businesses. Run government strictly like a business. Not adverse to government regulating social matters (abortion, religious affairs).
civic republicanism
Civic republicanism

Civic Republicanism has its roots in Greek and Roman political philosophy and in Renaissance thinking.

It employs the concepts of virtue, the common good, community, civic involvement, consensus, and opposition to parties and interest groups.

We find such concepts in important documents (some of the Federalist Papers) and speeches, as well as various movements (some of the 19th century utopian movements, and in the emphasis on communitarianism in the 1960’s and 1990s).

christian political discourse
Christian political discourse

Christian discourse is importantly influenced by the Reformation, the English Civil War and the various religious “Great Awakenings” that have taken place in the US (the latest in 1980s and 1990s).

This discourse emphasizes the special character of the US as a “Christian nation,” personal morality, the importance of the Bible as a guide to political and personal life, and community standards.

christian political discourse1
Christian political discourse
  • It is found in important speeches and documents, and helped conceptualize and motivate participation in important movements, such as the 19th century abolitionist movement, the early 20th century temperance movement, and the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
  • It is also important to the ideas, rhetoric and appeal of important strands of American social conservatism. These oppose 20th century social developments regarding abortion, gay rights, and the attempt to institute laws that recognize ethnic, religious and value pluralism in the US.
democratic party
Democratic Party

Mass-based party that is strongest in large cities, the north and northwest, the east and the west coasts

It has several wings, but tends towards New Liberalism and some forms of Civic Republicanism. It has support from unions, generally people with higher education levels, urban dwellers and some younger people.

It tends to support a larger role for the federal government, defense of minority rights, more regulation of the economy, and a foreign policy that leans more on bilateral and multilateral cooperation and use of international organizations.

Democrats were on the defensive after 9/11 because they did not necessarily want to use military force in Iraq and are critical of too much military spending.

republican party
Republican Party

A mass-based party with several wings. It generally tends towards classical liberalism, but encompasses people who hold both the business and libertarian versions, as well as those who subscribe to Christian Political Discourse.

It has more support among the business community, the lower middle classes, people in rural areas and in the middle of the country, people with lower levels of education and people with strong religious convictions.

It generally supports low taxes, devolvement of power to state and local governments, a strong military and a proactive and military-based foreign policy with regard to threats.

It has a better reputation with regard to military and security affairs than do Democrats, but the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as some of its internal security measures, damaged that reputation among some voters.

tea party
“Tea Party”

A loose group of politically active people who are concerned with the deficit and the size of the federal government.

While they label themselves independents and critics of the Republican Party, they associate with important members of that party and tend in general to move the Republicans further to the right on fiscal matters and structural issues regarding the federal government.

They have injected energy and populist rhetoric into politics, though the degree to which it is really a grass-roots party is in question (Koch brothers’ funding).

other actors
Other Actors

Beginning in the 1980s, political talk radio and later talk shows on cable television became important political influences

  • in injecting political issues into the political mainstream and
  • mobilizing ordinary citizens behind various causes.

Most recently, comedy shows have also become important

Conservatives: Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity

Progressives: Jon Stewart, Keith Olbermann

economic issues
Economic issues
  • De-industrialization and loss of jobs
  • Financial crisis and recession
  • Health care
  • Education policy
  • Social Security
  • Deficits
  • Tax policy
  • Distribution of wealth and income
political issues
Political issues
  • Power of the federal government,
  • Civil liberties and security,
  • Campaign finances,
  • Budget deficits at the national and state levels,
  • Regulation of businesses and banks,
  • Tax policy,
  • Public funding versus privatization of services and pensions
  • Role of unions,
  • US role in world affairs, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan
causes of deficits at the national level
Causes of deficits at the national level
  • Structural attempts to keep the economy expanding in an economy whose manufacturing sector is adversely affected by globalization
  • Lobbying
  • Politics of re-election
  • Military expenditures
obama administration
Obama administration

Generally centrist with regard to social and economic policies. Possibly slightly to the left on social policies and spending (though the latter is changing) and slightly to the right on regulations.

General approach is bipartisanship– attempts to gain the cooperation of more moderate Republicans for centrist policies.

critics on the left
Critics on the left
  • Obama is not doing enough to use federal spending to lift the economy out of the recession and create jobs
  • Policy of bipartisanship is a failure, as Republicans do not want to participate. They will take his concessions but given none of their own.
  • He has not done enough to regulate financial institutions.
  • He has not removed the US from Iran or Afghanistan, has not closed Guantanamo Bay, has not done enough to curb military spending.
  • In general, he is not as progressive as he appeared to be during the 2008 campaign and does not defend, or promote, progressive positions on the economy or social matters.
critics on the right
Critics on the right
  • Administration spends too much money
  • Administration is not doing enough to tackle the structural causes of deficit spending, such as entitlement programs
  • (Some) Administration should have allowed banks and Chrysler to fail rather than bail them out.
  • Administration is not doing enough to cut regulations that stymie job creation and economic growth
  • Health care bill will strangle growth and unconstitutionally requires people to buy health insurance.
defenders of the administration
Defenders of the administration
  • The administration inherited an economic, fiscal and regulatory mess from the Bush administration.
  • The country has to get a handle on health care costs. The bill was the best that could be delivered given the circumstances, and looks very much like the program the Republican Mitt Romney put in place in Massachusetts.
  • Civility and compromise are what the US needs in a time of crisis and political polarization
  • The US has to fulfill its commitments to Iraq and get rid of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan before it leaves
2012 elections
2012 Elections
  • Depending on development in the next 8 months, Obama may have one or more challengers in the Democratic primaries
  • The Republicans are re-energized. But they have no viable frontrunners, in part because the activities of the Tea Party has pushed them to the right. The most popular candidates within the party (Palin, Huckabee) do not appear to be electable, and those that may be electable (Romney) do not appear to have much support in the party. But this could quickly change.

Outline which elements of American politics are relevant to Taiwan and the promotion and defense of Taiwan’s interests in the US.

  • Why are they relevant to Taiwan?
  • How would you use these elements to defend and promote Taiwan’s interests?
outline for part 2
Outline for part 2
  • Important foreign policy players
  • Connections between domestic policy issues and foreign policy
  • Important foreign policy issues
  • US-Taiwan-PRC
  • Exercise
foreign policy actors
Foreign policy actors

Executive Branch

  • President
  • National Security Council and Staff
  • Secretary of State
  • Secretary of Defense
    • Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
  • Director of the CIA
  • Director of the NSA
  • Secretary of Homeland Security
foreign policy actors1
Foreign policy actors


  • Senate
    • Majority Leader
    • Minority Leader
    • Foreign Relations Committee
    • Armed Services Committee
    • Budget Committee
  • House
    • Speaker
    • Foreign Affairs Committee
    • Armed Services Committee
    • Budget Committee
    • Ways and Means Committee
foreign policy actors at the federal level
Foreign policy actors at the federal level

The Executive Branch generally has the advantage in foreign policy matters. This is due to the need for leadership, quick decision making, and unified decision making.

Congress has attempted to take back power at times in the past (Treaty of Versailles, War Powers Act), but power always gravitates back to the Executive, a process accelerated during crises.


Officials at the state level do not have much influence over foreign affairs. They do travel abroad to solicit business for state industries, but any agreements they may make must be approved by the federal government.

Local officials and opinion leaders, as well as ordinary voters, are important in that they can be mobilized to put pressure on their members of Congress. Some groups associated with particular countries (Israel, Eastern European countries) are very good at mobilizing such support and lobbying Congress.

more foreign policy actors
More foreign policy actors

Editorial staff of major newspapers: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe

Think Tanks: RAND, New American Century, Carnegie Institute for Peace, Foreign Policy Research Institute, Brookings, American Enterprise Institute, Center for International and Strategic Studies, etc. Full list at:

Many thinktanks employ important former members of administrations who continue to wield influence and who may return to government in the future.


Lobbyists are very important influences. They are able to communicate the views and interests of interest groups in a forceful and skillful manner. They most often lobby Congress because that is where laws are written and it is more open to outside input than the executive branch.

Like thinktanks, lobbying firms often employ former members of Congress and other former government officials.

ordinary citizens
Ordinary citizens

Voters vote not on the direct basis of elite policy positions, but through an interpretation of those positions provided by deeper narratives that draw on understandings of American history and values.

While these narratives are durable, they are also multiple and large numbers of people change the narratives they accept in reaction to events and conditions.

There are four narratives, two that see the US as exceptional and two that see the US as not exceptional.

narrative type 1
Narrative Type 1:

Because they are exceptional in the sense that their values are superior to what others now hold, Americans should go out into and change the world in their image

Domestic Applications: people can be socialized into American values. Melting point Americanism.

Foreign policy world must be converted to Western, democratic (and often Christian) values

US has an obligation to defend those who have converted to such values

narrative type 2
Narrative Type 2

Because they are exceptional in the sense of having superior values and institutions, Americans are vulnerable to corrosive influences from the outside world

Domestic Application: American culture is exclusive to particular cultural groups– others should be, as for as possible, kept out. Nativists, Know-Nothings

Foreign Policy Application: Most other (non-Western) countries cannot develop values like those of the US or act in ways that are beneficial to the US: therefore there is no need for the US to become routinely involved in foreign affairs.Can justify use of military overseas in defense of country and to punish enemies-- Mead’s “Jacksonianism”

narrative type 3
Narrative type 3

Americans are not unique in the sense that American values are those naturally shared by most cultures and peoples

Domestic Applications: importance of equal worth and protection for all citizens, multi-culturalism.

Foreign policy: share American resources, expertise and experience overseas, benefit from trade and cultural relations

Goal: help countries develop, modernize and reach potential in Western-type terms and help US to expand economically.

narrative type 4
Narrative type 4

Americans are not unique in the sense that their values are not superior. There is a common core of humanness that is not exhausted by any single set of cultural or ethical elements

Domestic Applications: Libertarians, pluralists, others suspicious of government role in social and moral spheres

Foreign Policy: rejection of most military efforts, alliances, or attempts to form other peoples in Western image. Provide humanitarian aid, do best by taking care of own localities. Allow nations to develop according to their own values so long as they do not bother the US or harm other nations.

  • Like Bush, as time goes on Obama is increasingly engaging in policies most compatible with Narrative 3 and to some degree Narrative 1.
  • But also like Bush he is facing the prospect that many ordinary Americans are migrating to Narrative 2 who, with his initial Narrative 4 supporters, are skeptical of what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Consequently he is being criticized by large numbers of people who are impatient with a foreign policy they consider either more militaristic or more activist than he promised.
connections between domestic policy and foreign policy
Connections between domestic policy and foreign policy

The most important domestic policy issues in terms of their effects on foreign policy are debates over the size and power of the federal government and over the federal deficit.

The power of federal government is connected with foreign policy as both cause and effect. The federal government has grown in power importantly because of foreign policy affairs, and presidents often turn to foreign policy to strengthen their positions.

Debates over the deficit may affect how activist nature of American foreign policy in the future.

foreign policy and debates over the size of the federal government
Foreign policy and debates over the size of the federal government
  • The power of the federal government and president in general has grown over the past century. This power has been spurred in part by foreign policy and military responsibilities.
  • Challenges to the power of the federal government mean, in part, challenges to its supremacy over foreign policy. If the federal government is to be scaled back, it must be placed in a situation in which it cannot use foreign affairs as an excuse for and a means of accumulating power.
  • Part of challenge is also argument against size of budget and deficits and money spent on foreign aid (very little) and military and military operations (a huge amount). This argument has creating a situation in which people who have argued for a smaller national government are increasingly moving to realize they must choose between such a government and a large and active military, which they have often supported.
foreign policy and federal government
Foreign policy and federal government
  • However, the challenge to the federal government as too powerful is reminiscent of the arguments in the 1970s that the president is too powerful. Attempts to curb that power not successful.
  • This is because what moves foreign policy is largely outside the control of domestic politicians. Global events will help determine how the US engages in foreign policy.
  • It is also the case that security usually trumps other concerns .
  • Whether other values have the same potential (such as democratization, human rights and humanitarian concerns) remains to be demonstrated. At this time, they do not appear to have such power.
pressures on the us to disengage from an activist foreign policy
Pressures on the us to disengage from an activist foreign policy

Therefore, there are two sets of pressure now attempting to push the US towards a less activist foreign policy:

Narratives that argue (for different reasons) that the US should not be actively engaged in the world because such activity will either harm the US or harm the world.

Policy arguments that hold that the size and power of the federal government should be scaled back and that its budgets should be reduced dramatically to cure budgetary problems.

constants in us foreign policy
Constants in us foreign policy
  • Intolerance of Great Powers obtaining a foothold in the Americas
  • Formal anti-colonialism
  • Ambivalent attitude towards alliances and international structures
  • Promotion of free trade
  • Value-laden discourse coupled with a realist assessment and action plan
contemporary issues terrorism
Contemporary issues: Terrorism

The US continues to focus on terrorism. Because terrorism is no longer state-bound, this leads to a fluid approach.

Like the Cold War, the War on Terrorism creates a dualistic understanding of the world. Nations were with the US or against it. This led to cooperation with authoritarian regimes that the US is now moving away from (particularly those in the ME that are now experiencing internal unrest).

iraq and afghanistan
Iraq and AFghanistan

The Obama administration has pledged to remove US troops from those areas in the next few years.

This may be feasible in Iraq, though the current upheavals in the region may create complications.

Afghanistan is different. If the goal is to leave a friendly and stable country behind, that will not be reached for some time. The Taliban is still important, and Al Qaeda is still at large. There are pressures to leave from both the public and the Afghan government.


The US has experienced globalization in the same fashion as have other Western early industrializers: through de-industrialization and the growing importance of the service and banking sectors.

Successive administrations have attempted to deal with globalization through both multi-lateral and bilateral trade agreements. The momentum appears to be to enter into bilateral agreements rather than larger scale (regional or global) agreements.

alliances and rivalries
Alliances and rivalries

The US is still deeply committed to NATO, though that organization is still undergoing a post-Cold War transition. The status of SEATO is more ambiguous.

Relations with Russia fluctuate. It is no longer seen as a great military rival, but also not seen as a reliable international partner.

world order
World order

The US would like to continue to perpetuate the immediate post-Cold War world order, in which it was dominant and in which Cold War institutions (NATO, World Bank, IMF) continue to play an important role.

It continues to view the UN skeptically, as it has since the late 1960s.

It supports the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, but it is not clear for how much longer it will continue in that role.

It continues to see itself as a kind of enforcer of order, though its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan necessarily limits its ability to play that role.

middle east
Middle east

Given its public commitment to democratization the US has to appear supportive of aspirations for democracy in the Middle East.

However, both the general level of instability entailed in the uprisings, and the particular threats to regimes that have cooperated with the US, leads to hesitancy. The US would not want to trade a friendly, though authoritarian regime in Egypt, for example, for a democratic Islamist regime.

Thus, though the public face of the War on Terrorism attempts to delink terrorism from Islam in general, there is still a broad tendency to distrust Islamic governments in the Middle East (where Wahabbi influences are the strongest).

effect of events in middle east on us policy in east asia asst sec kurt campbell
Effect of events in middle east on us policy in east asiaAsst. sec. kurtcampbell

I think there are a number of reactions in Asia to the developments in Egypt. One of them is obviously a concern for whether there will be spillover effects in other parts of the Middle East and what that might mean to regional stability as a whole. I think other countries that have centralized authoritarian leaders are always worried about what the consequences will be and whether there are follow-on effects.

And I think there probably is a recognition that such an event really takes an enormous amount of focus from the United States Government, given our strong commitments to the region and also to the people of Egypt, and they are going to want to see that the United States can continue a strong engagement in Asia at the same time that there is deep challenges in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.

important contemporary issues from state department sources
Important contemporary issues from state department sources
  • 21st Century Statecraft
  • Afghanistan
  • Global Climate Change
  • Democracy and human rights
  • Food Security
  • Health
  • Iraq
  • Middle East Peace
  • Non-Proliferation
  • Pakistan
  • Sudan
  • Yeman
us in pacific region from state department sources
US in Pacific region (from state department sources)

The United States' interests in the East Asia-Pacific region concern promoting regional stability, fostering democracy and human rights, encouraging economic prosperity, furthering cooperation on fighting transnational issues and international crime, and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

us taiwan relations
Us-taiwan relations
  • One China policy plus Taiwan Relations Act
    • Accepts that there is one China and that Taiwan is part of China, but holds that the integration of Taiwan with the mainland must be consensual and peaceful
    • Is required by statute to defend and provide arms to Taiwan in the face of attempts to force integration by non-peaceful means
  • Relations in a different form
    • Embassy, consulates and ambassador present, but called by different names
    • Restrictions on travel to the US on the part of high ranking ROC officials
us and the prc
Us and the prc

The US is ambivalent about the PRC:

Positive views:

  • Counterweight to Russia
  • Partner in keeping North Korea in hand
  • Partner in dealing with terrorism
  • Successful integration into the world market
  • Historical sympathies towards China in general

Negative views:

  • Lingering anti-Communism
  • Human rights, democracy, Tibet
  • Economic competition– trade and raw materials
  • Growing military power and political influence in the Pacific region
  • Perceived arrogance
us and taiwan
Us and Taiwan

The US has some equally ambivalent views regarding Taiwan:

Positive views:

  • Historical sympathies (WWII, Cold War)
  • Democracy
  • Successful economic integration
  • Bullied by China

Not so positive views:

  • Provokes China, will drag US into a war
  • History of authoritarianism (ambivalence towards CKS)
  • Unruly politics
exercise 2
Exercise 2

Outline a strategy to promote the interests of Taiwan in the US.

  • What would be your overall strategy?
  • What narrative should you create to promote Taiwan’s interests?
  • How would you use American foreign policy positions in arguments promoting Taiwan’s interests?
  • What would you attempt to avoid or downplay?