Foreign policy at a macro level has made a return – probably briefly – to US politics. At an appearance at the Republican Jewish Committee on December 8th, all the major Republican presidential contenders criticized President Obama harshly for not supporting Israel adequately and for general foreign policy weakness, especially on Iran. Obama responded with a robust defense of his foreign policy, citing the killing of Osama bin Laden and the isolation of Iran to refute the charge of “appeasement.” Few political observers expect foreign policy to be a priority issue in the presidential campaign, but it is clear that the White House believes that it has a good record to defend, especially on counter-terrorism Officials there tell us that they feel that, with regard to foreign policy, Obama will be more than a match for whoever emerges as the Republican nominee. Other major issues are also attracting attention. In military talks with the Chinese, the US military is seeking to provide reassurance to its Chinese counterparts that future deployments of US forces to Australia are not aimed at China. US officials acknowledge that this task will require sustained effort. One NSC planner told us: “The Chinese are very wary of us. They place the most conspiratorial interpretation possible on all our actions.” As we have reported before, US policy is pulled in many different ways on policy toward China. It is therefore likely to remain pointing in several directions at the same time.
Turning to Russia, there is rising alarm at what is seen as the risk of widespread civil disruption in the wake of mass protests against the December 4th election results. In many Washington foreign policy circles, both Democratic and Republican, there is deep antipathy to Prime Minister Putin. Should, as all expect, he return to the Russian presidency next year, US-Russia relations are in for a rocky period.
Finally, pessimism is growing about the course of events relating to the “Arab Spring.” In both Egypt and Syria (to which the US Ambassador is returning), US officials see an adverse trend. One State Department analyst commented privately to us: “We have to plot a cautious course. The Damascus regime, which we want to see go, seems destined to hold on, while in Cairo the military, which we see as a source of stability, is acting oppressively to counteract the Muslim Brotherhood, about which we also have concerns. There are no straightforward options.”
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian