Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee won the Iowa Democratic and Republican caucuses by urging major changes in how this country is governed. In New Hampshire Hillary Clinton joined in this theme and won the Democratic Party's primary.

What do these "change agents" have in mind regarding U.S. foreign policy?

Democrats say they want to restore respect for America abroad, but Republicans argue that 9-11 forced America to be more assertive about its national interests and to worry less about world opinion.

Here are five Bush administration foreign policy priorities. The question is, which of them would candidates change if they become president?


Benazir Bhutto's assassination last month deprives that country of its leading democrat and makes it what The Economist (Jan. 5 ) calls "the world's most dangerous place."

After 9-11, George Bush made a deal with Pakistan's military chief, Pervez Musharraf, for support of America's invasion of Afghanistan in return for large economic and military aid to Pakistan. Five years later, Musharraf has failed to crush al-Qaeda's stronghold in northern Pakistan, and his popularity at home has plummeted. The country is on the edge of political collapse.

What specifically would the a new president do about chaos in Pakistan? And what impact would the new policy have on the continuing war in Afghanistan?


Its leaders hope that their country will one day replace the United States as the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. They continue to build a nuclear power capability that could produce nuclear weapons. Since 1979, U.S. policy has sought to isolate Iran's Revolutionary Government, and in 2002 George Bush declared it to be part of an "axis of evil." Currently, Iran supplies arms to Shiite militias in Iraq that kill American troops as well as Iraq's Sunnis.

Will the next president launch an attack on Iran, or seek an accommodation with it? If the price of accommodation requires a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and potentially the Persian Gulf, would a new president pay it?


For twenty years the United States supported China's rapid economic growth and its membership in the World Trade Organization.

Chinese products, produced with low-paid workers and fueled by huge U.S. investments in China, then flooded the U.S. market. China's Communist leaders ignored the urgings of top U.S. officials to change its artificial exchange rate for the yuan. The result is massive trade deficits that enabled China to become the largest foreign holder of U.S. dollars.

How would the new president change this dangerous economic trend, which has large strategic significance in terms of China's growing power position?


During forty years of Cold War, this remarkable alliance was the bedrock of American foreign policy. Following the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, both the Clinton and Bush administrations urged NATO to expand its security role into the Middle East, especially the Persian Gulf region. In 1991 European countries joined the United States in forcing Saddam Hussein to withdraw his troops from Kuwait and in demanding Iraq's disarmament. However, NATO failed to isolate Saddam.

Today, Europeans have little appetite for peace-enforcing operations anywhere outside Europe. Even in Afghanistan, where Europe joined Washington in its occupation in 2002, only British, Dutch, and Canadian troops are permitted by their governments to engage in combat operations with U.S. forces. The French, German, and Italian governments do not let their troops join in military operations, despite recent strong urging by President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

How would the new president deal with allies who refuse to participate in peace-enforcing missions, even in Afghanistan where their own troops are stationed?


Despite strenuous efforts in 2007, congressional Democrats failed to force George Bush to accept a timetable to withdraw troops. All Democratic candidates have pledged to withdraw these forces, but Hillary Clinton acknowledges that many will remain to train Iraq's security forces and help police its borders.

Would any candidate pull out all U.S. troops, and leave Iraq in civil war from which Iran would be the beneficiary? Would any Arab country, especially those that host U.S. forces, trust the United States to defend them against Iran?

The reality in 2008 is that America is nearly alone in being prepared to use force to prevent regional dangers from escalating into major insurgencies and wars. That is the price of being the superpower.

Will a new president decide that America should not police the world alone, and gradually withdraw U.S. troops from abroad? Candidates should tell voters how they will change current foreign policy, including the price they are willing to pay.

File last modified on Monday, 14-JAN-2008 08:32 PM EST

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