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



Earlier this year, a leading foreign policy expert, Richard N. Haass, published a challenging book titled "Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America's House in Order."

Haass writes that "the biggest and most immediate threat to the United States is the growing inability of the American people and the American political system to forge and sustain policies at home" that will keep it strong and meet the foreign threats that characterize the twenty-first century.

Pundits and public opinion deplore the sad state of Washington politics, epitomized by last month's shutdown of the government. However, few focus on the impact that Washington's gridlock has on America's relations with other countries.

Three events last month underlined a foreign policy debacle.

The first was President Obama's cancellation of a trip to Indonesia to meet with top government leaders from all the East Asian countries to discuss trade and security matters. The result? China's president, Xi Jingping, was the beneficiary of Obama's absence from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting and a subsequent conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Time Magazine (Oct. 21) headlined a story: "Obama's Asia Problem." It reported that in the contest for the future of Asia, "Obama's cancelled trip opens the door for China's increasing influence." Asian leaders ask whatever happened to Obama's earlier decision to refocus U.S. strategic policy toward Asia and the Pacific.

A second event was the result of Obama's earlier decision to use diplomacy instead of military means to punish Syria for using chemical weapons. Arab leaders were stunned. by Obama's policy reversal. Saudi Arabia showed its displeasure by refusing to accept a coveted seat on the U.N. Security Council and criticized that body including the U.S. for not dealing with the crisis in Syria, Iran's nuclear threat to the region, and the Palestinian issue.

Obama's decision to use diplomacy instead of military power in Syria was the result of two factors: political gridlock in Washington that made congressional approval unlikely for armed intervention; and unwillingness of Britain, Germany, and NATO to join the United States. France appeared willing to participate in a bombing campaign and was surprised that Obama failed to follow through.

A third blow to America's reputation among allies were revelations during the shutdown about massive U.S. spying against friendly countries. German chancellor, Angela Merkel, reportedly outraged after learning that her cell-phone calls had been monitored by the National security Agency, quickly dispatched a team to Washington to get answers and pledges from Obama that the practice would stop.

What should we make of these blows to U.S. credibility with allies in East Asia, the Middle East, and Europe? Here are three questions that thoughtful Americans should ponder at the end of this politically volatile year.


Congress and the president will, in my view, work out an agreement on a 2014 budget by year's end, and Obama will patch up relations with Germany and the other NATO countries in coming months. He also will make amends in Asia by visiting the region early in 2014. But Obama will be unable to mollify Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries that have relied on U.S. leadership to resolve regional issues before they become crises. Syria was the tipping point, and Obama wisely decided against using U.S. forces to end that humanitarian crisis.

File last modified on Tuesday, 12-NOV-2013 12:51 PM EST

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