Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thinking about U.S. Foreign Policy

The people of the United States demand that the U.S. Government act transparently and efficiently to assure policies and institutions that provide themselves with a good life and the prospect of a better life for their children and their grandchildren. The State Department seeks to fulfill this demand in the creation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy.

What is considered a good life in 2011 is quite different than that which would have been so regarded in 1911 or 1811. Of course today it involves an adequate income and economic security and adequate physical safety. It also today involves liberty, education and access to information and knowledge, and other basic human rights.

I would suggest that the vast majority of U.S. citizens would agree that they would not be living a good life were they unwilling to sacrifice some portion of their income to help people in need. So too, a good life would for most Americans require some concern for the quality of their environment. Indeed, the vast majority of Americans would agree that living a good life involves being a good neighbor, and would extend that belief to assuming that the United States should seek to be a good neighbor to other nations.

It seems clear that properly regulated free markets are the best institutional form known today to promote economic growth. Government institutions that adequately respond to the interests and demands of their citizens seem necessary for social as well as economic development. It also seems clear that the American economy benefits from the economic development of other nations and a global trading system. So too does American security benefit from more nations attaining high levels of development and democratic governance. Thus U.S. foreign policy seeks not only to support the U.S. economy and democracy, but to encourage economic and democratic growth in other nations, both out of domestic interest and as a good neighbor to those nations. So too does it seek to promote the betterment of life for those in need worldwide as part of its foreign policy.

Too many Americans seem to assume that the Arab nations or the Latin American nations are similar, one to another simply because they are referred to by collective nouns. As the Arab Spring is demonstrating, Arab nations have different cultures, different histories, and different circumstances that require different U.S. foreign policy responses, as do our different interests in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Libya as well as other nations. So too do the dynamics of the different Arab nations in regional issues such as those presented by the Israeli-Palestinian situation, Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran. So do do the various Latin American countries require U.S. foreign policies tailored to their special circumstances; U.S. foreign policy for Brazil has little to do with U.S. foreign policy for Colombia or Haiti.

It is hard to infer overall U.S. foreign policy from its implementation in one or a few countries because that is not the best way to understand that policy; it is better to analyze that policy from first principals and knowledge of local circumstances. So too, it seems fatuous to assume that the United States should be willing to embark on the same actions in support of democratization of Saudi Arabia as it does in support of democratization of Libya or Iraq, or for that matter China.

All too often foreigners seek to understand U.S. foreign policy from false assumptions as to the objectives of the American public and/or the responsiveness of the U.S. Government to those objectives.

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