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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David J. Lorenzo
Foreign Policy Institute
March 4, 2011
Discussion of domestic US politics
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.
In the US, liberalism is expressed in at least two forms:
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
Beginning in the 1980s, political talk radio and later talk shows on cable television became important political influences
Most recently, comedy shows have also become important
Conservatives: Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity
Progressives: Jon Stewart, Keith Olbermann
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.
Outline which elements of American politics are relevant to Taiwan and the promotion and defense of Taiwan’s interests in the US.
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.
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: http://thinktanks.fpri.org/
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.
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.
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
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
The US is ambivalent about the PRC:
The US has some equally ambivalent views regarding Taiwan:
Not so positive views:
Outline a strategy to promote the interests of Taiwan in the US.