The Neocon Stranglehold on US Foreign Policy
This interview appeared in Le Monde on February 12th: "Neoconservatism continues to structure the thinking of the candidates" The translation is not word-for-word (as I am pressed for time).
Q. Are there significant differences between John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with respect to US relations to Russia and China? Once in the White House, would they harden their stance toward these two countries?
The differences among these candidates should not underestimated. But foreign policy suggested during Presidential campaign is subject to the influence of events and issues yet to emerge. Remember that during George W. Bush's first presidential campaign, foreign policy was barely mentioned and no one imagined that it would end up being the centerpiece of his policy agenda.
I would also like to say right off the bat that Neoconservatism has played such a tremendous role in structuring US foreign policy over the last 8 years that all the candidates, whether Republican or Democrat, define themselves against this policy... No clear overriding vision of an alternative has emerged.
As to Russia and China, ...because John McCain is close to George H.W. Bush in both age and conviction, he would likely implement the "realist" approach that he knew during the Cold War...Neither Hillary nor Obama have suggested a substantial change toward China or Russia. It can be seen that Washington's foreign policy is still hostage to a hegemonic, unipolar vision that no candidate suggests revising and we are unlikely to see new and original forms of international diplomacy.
What are the international stakes in the US presidential primaries?
Traditionally, foreign policy does not occupy a prominent place in campaigning except when an exceptional major international event occurs, for example, the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, or when the direct interests of US society are in the balance, as during the Vietnam conflict. Whatever the importance of the Iraq issue, it does not occupy a major place in the debate.
Given the difficulty that the Democratic candidates have in defining an alternative, foreign policy is underplayed during debates. Certainly, Barack Obama underscores his opposition to the war but Hillary Clinton has taken a strong position on the necessity of disengagement from Iraq and so there is a certain amount of consensus in the Democratic camp. But the Republicans have shown no sign of a competing vision.
What do the candidates think about the role of NATO in Afghanistan?
NATO is very likely to become a diplomatic challenge. First, because it's identity and future is uncertain and second, because the alliance is a credo of both Democratic candidates. A Democrat in the White House would regalvanize the alliances inherited from the Cold War -something like a return to the Truman Doctrine....
We could see a new partnership...and a reintegration of France into the NATO military apparatus. From Obama, we could even expect a sort of neo-Atlantism...On the other hand, John McCain would continue down the unilateral path and the ambiguities surrounding NATO would likely continue...
Yet all the candidates agree on the idea of "global NATO", which would enlarge its scope of intervention to anywhere in the world.
There is very little divergence between Obama and the current Republican administration concerning Afghanistan and Central Asia will remain for years to come a privileged place of NATO involvement....which is unsettling to everyone.
Will NATO invade Pakistan? Will it defend Taiwan against China?
Barack Obama surprised everyone by declaring during his campaign that military action against Pakistan could be necessary...the old interventionalist reflexes have not been abandoned and Afghanistan is at the center of Obama's concerns.
The risks are great. Of all the countries in the region, Pakistan is the most populous and tangled in networks of all sorts. Military action could be catastrophic, not to mention apocalyptic. Moreover, China is an outright ally of Pakistan. We are dealing with extreme danger on which we should focus.
As to Taiwan...US policy is one of attempting to cajole continental China...much uncertainty remains...
Have the recent elections in Pakistan changed anything?
Yes, certainly. Benazir Bhutto had adopted the idea of rapprochement with Washington and mobilization against the Taliban and extremist networks... If the PPP adopts this position, Islamabad's foreign policy would considerably change...
Pervez Musharref advocates that restraint and balance is a requirement for the survival of Pakistan. A close alliance with the United States, rapprochement with Karzai's Afghanistan could change the configuration of the Afghan conflict and spread it southward....
The US is pursuing a dangerous course that could radicalize certain elements...Pakistan is likely to be the baptism of fire for the new US President.
What about Cuba?
It's all about winning votes in South Florida. There is no divergence between the Democrats and the Republicans over Cuba...
[to be continued]