Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Pitfalls of Forecasting Foreign Policy

My new analysis on PRA Right Web:

The Pitfalls of Forecasting Foreign Policy
By Leon Hadar | March 13, 2008

PRA Right Web

After close to eight years during which the relationship between the United States and much of the international community has been dominated by tensions over foreign policy, many wonder what a new administration will hold. Some hope there will be a new U.S. approach to the rest of the world—especially to the Middle East—that will be a dramatic foreign policy U-turn. Others hope for a president who maintains similar versions of current policies.

It is powerfully tempting to try to predict U.S. foreign policy under this or that president by means of deconstructing his or her statements and campaign speeches; in election months, such predictions flow nonstop from the news media and pundits. But such an exercise is likely to produce misleading, unreliable conclusions, and a look at history and the candidates’ backgrounds suggests that predicting future policy is anything but clear-cut.

For example, in their reelection campaigns, both Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt said they wanted to keep the United States out World War I and World War II, respectively. However, both Democrats later led the country into direct military involvement. It is also illuminating to remember not only Richard Nixon’s opening to China and his policy of d├ętente with the Soviet Union and Ronald Reagan’s historic nuclear arms control agreement with Moscow, but also that both presidents ran on staunch anticommunist platforms.

More recently, recall the way presidential candidate Bill Clinton bashed then-President George H.W. Bush for “coddling” the “tyrants” in Beijing and then, after he won office, promoted a normalized trade relationship with China and its accession to the World Trade Organization. Nor should one overlook the fact that during a televised debate with Al Gore, presidential candidate George W. Bush scoffed at the notion that “nation-building” should be an integral part of U.S. foreign policy.

Clearly, throughout history and across the political spectrum, presidents have frequently acted contrary to the attitudes they expressed on the campaign trail. Yet this has not been a particularly big deal; voters recognize that the president has to react to unpredictable global situations as they arise. As an indicator of future policy, it is clear that campaign promises are a truly faulty measure. read the rest.

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