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



What do Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Turkey's President Recep Erdogan, and Egypt's President Abdel el-Sisi share in their foreign policies? They are in the process of distancing their countries from the United States after many decades of close coordination with Washington. And all three leaders resent American officials lecturing them on poor human rights records.

A fourth ally, Saudi Arabia, pursues an independent policy in its war with neighboring Yemen, especially its bombing of civilian targets because it fears Iran's involvement.

Philippines. Mr. Duterte, who was elected president in May, soon declared his intention to turn his policy away from close cooperation with long-time ally, the United States, and seek better relations with China. Last week Duterte was welcomed on a state visit to Beijing where he met China's top leaders. Earlier he announced that his navy would no longer participate in exercises with U.S. naval forces in the South China Sea, the strategic international waterway that China covets as its zone of influence.

Duterte seems determined to reject sixty years of close political and military collaboration with the United States in protecting Southeast Asia from Chinese and Russian encroachments. Born in 1945, he doesn't seem to remember that his country was liberated from Japanese occupation that year by U.S. military forces.

Turkey. In 1946, President Harry Truman saved Turkish independence by providing aid to Greece and Turkey to resist Russian pressure to gain control over the strategic Dardanelles waterway linking the Black Sea with the Mediterranean. The so-called Truman Doctrine provided a guarantee that America would resist Russian pressure in this vital area at a time when Stalin tried to take advantage of the Soviet success in defeating Hitler's Germany. The United States was largely responsible for bringing Turkey into NATO in 1952 and protecting it against Russia's continuing threats on its independence.

Now President Erdogan is reluctant to rely on the United States as a strategic partner and recently visited Moscow to confer with Vladimir Putin and seek closer ties. Last week Ankara announced an agreement to complete the stalled Turkish Stream gas pipeline that transports Russian fuel through Turkey to southern Europe. This supports Putin's plan to put pressure on Ukraine's economy.

Egypt. In 1972, a new president, Anwar Sadat, turned Egyptian foreign policy against close association with the Soviet Union and instead turned to the United States for economic and military assistance. He also made peace with Israel, for which he was denounced by the Muslim Brotherhood Party. Since then, Egypt has been a staunch U.S. ally. But in 2011, Sadat's successor as president, Hosni Mubarak, was ousted in a popular revolution that was supported by the Obama administration. The Muslim Brotherhood then won a general election and governed for a year before it was ousted by another popular revolt supported by the military. The army's commander, General Sisi, emerged as the new president.

Although President Sisi retains good military relations with the U.S. military and gets substantial U.S. assistance, his authoritarian domestic policies are deplored by human rights organizations. The military command that supports Sisi is deeply skeptical of U.S. policy, because President Obama acquiesced in President Mubarak's ouster in 2011. They question whether Washington will stand by the current government in another crisis. In August, Sisi visited Moscow for talks with Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials. Cairo reported that the visit would "boost strategic relations" between Egypt and Russia.

What should we conclude from these developments? An obvious one is this: three, possibly four, long-time U.S. allies are moving away from close policy coordination with Washington and balancing their relations with the regional power closest to them geographically. Their leaders have concluded that Barak Obama shows weakness in dealing with China, Russia, and Iran.

The fundamental factor is President Obama's reluctance to employ even small military actions to reassure allies of U.S. steadfastness. He favors diplomacy as a better way to resolve conflicts with China, Russia, and Iran. Secretary of State John Kerry has what many believe is a thankless job of pursing endless diplomatic negotiations while Russia and China employ forces to achieve strategic goals.

File last modified on Sunday, 23-OCT-2016 10:42 AM EST

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