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December 2012

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U.S. Foreign Policy: Room to Regroup
By George Friedman, founder of STRATFOR and author of The Next Decade: What the World will Look Like (2010)

Reviewed by Theodore S. Wilkinson

As suggested by the title of his article, the author maintains that the U.S. has strategic “breathing room” at the outset of Obama II. The two other “pillars” of the current world order—China and Europe—are weakened by “existential challenges”: Europe because of its disarray in dealing with recession and insolvencies, and China because its dynamic export engine is losing steam, with no new model in sight. In contrast, the U.S. fiscal cliff is readily solvable once the political posturing game is played out.

In other potential challenges, Iran “has overreached and is in crisis.” Russia is still robust but depends economically on energy exports to Europe, which may become less reliant on them as “new technologies” emerge. The U.S. in contrast is becoming increasingly independent of Persian Gulf oil. Of course the menace of Islamist terrorism remains, but that is not an “existential threat.” In these circumstances, the U.S. can afford “selective engagement” and should be able to manage its international involvement with “minimum use of force.”

One can scarcely argue with the conclusion as a generality. But Friedman’s analysis—based characteristically on “realist” principles that what really matters is only money and military power—seems to suggest that the U.S. can complacently stand aside from regional situations like Libya last year or Syria this year, while the communications revolution keeps the entire world informed daily of violence and human suffering. Contrast Friedman’s with the more ideological approach proposed in the December 2d Washington Post by Freedom House President David Kramer and Vice President Arch Puddington. In “A New Democracy Agenda,” they argue for “a change in course” for Obama, with a new secretary of state committed to democracy promotion and more activist measures to press China and Russia on human rights issues, plus a no-fly zone in Syria. And while Islamic terrorism may not be an existential threat, prudence would suggest that our “selective engagement” seek ways to mitigate it. One of them lies in our relations with Israel. Our commitment to Israel’s security should not be nor be seen to be, not just by Moslems but by most of the rest of the world, a blank check for actions that undermine the basis for peace, such as the November 30th announcement of new housing construction zones near Jerusalem, reportedly over U.S. objections.bluestar

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