The foreign policy approach of both US presidential candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, is haphazard and should be revised to focus on dialogue with societies rather than governments and political elites
The upcoming presidential election in the United States begs the question: what kind of foreign policy will be at the top of the agenda for the winner? And how should the many global challenges be piled on America's shelves? It is apparent that both the Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney have a lot of tasks at hand: their ongoing election campaigns and debates vividly show that their approaches to foreign problems are at best haphazard.
How can we otherwise gauge Obama's opaque policy towards Iran and the Middle East? Or Romney describing Russia as America's number one geopolitical foe? Is it not time for them to grasp the nettle? Is not it time to put forward a clear long-term strategy?
Recent overarching changes in the world of politics in the form of globalisation, the diminishing gap between the west and the rest, the rise of China, the European Union's diminishing role, the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – environmental changes, the financial crisis, the threat from non-state actors such as terrorist groups – all these are indisputable faces that encapsulate a chaotic international mosaic. How should the US accommodate that new multipolar world order to best deliver the American nation's message to the world?
It is of utmost significance to revisit America's current foreign policy agenda in order to succeed in these global undertakings. Glacial Sino-American relations, open confrontation with Iran, Syrian deadlock, inaction in the Sudans, and Arab-Israeli conflict all cast a shadow on the peaceful economic development of the US and the whole world.
Chinese investments provoke serious concerns among some American decision-makers, who argue that they may undermine core US national security interests thus hindering deeper economic cooperation. Taking into account the nationalistic appetite of the Chinese political elite, 'Chimerica' reminds me of otherworldliness. But stronger Sino-American cooperation based on mutual interests seems possible. The same applies to India, Brazil and other decisive actors in international arena.
Nevertheless, in this era of globalisation, state-to-state cooperation is not enough. The US can exercise its soft power to deepen cooperation with China, India, Brazil and others. This cooperation must rise to the societal level, between ordinary citizens. Mostly in non-democratic states, and states in the period of transition, there is a huge gap between public opinion and the so-called 'published opinion'.
This can apply to China, Iran and the like where the political elite – who have not been elected directly or have been 'elected' against the nation's will – does not represent the people's political outlook or opinion about the US and the its foreign policy. That is why the new Obama or Romney administration should undertake an abrupt reversal in American foreign policy agenda and focus more on societies rather then governments and political elites.
Betting on the ordinary people will, in any case, pave the way for exerting US power on the political elite as the latter will no longer be able to use the published opinion in order to cheat their own nation and stay in power. Economic investments and deeper cooperation, socio-cultural engagement, more open dialogue between people and societies – not just between governments and officials – more opportunities in the field of educational and scientific cooperation. All these should be the new administration's strategy after the November 6 election.
The establishment of closer ties between the people of the US and the people of other given countries will make their relationship increasingly interdependent thus replacing confrontation with cooperation, exclusion with engagement, insular passions with global interests. The US will thus spin a web of prosperous relationships, the very guarantee of American security in the new multipolar world. It is societies rather than governments that will decide the future.
Vahram Ayvazyan is a 2012 graduate of the Genocide and Human Rights University Programme