End of free markets and interventionist foreign policy?

A piece in Foreign Policy argues that the liberal order is ending, “In 1967, Britain unexpectedly announced the end of what, for decades, had been a genuinely global foreign policy. In response to the depreciation of the pound sterling, expensive decolonisation campaigns, and the evolving attitudes of the baby boomer generation, Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s Labour government abruptly announced that his government would change course, prioritising welfare over warfare”.

Of course the writer omits the context to this, the fact that the UK was bankrupt after the Second World War and was shedding colonies as fast as it could in order to right the finances. At the same time, under Wilson, it was making London a tax haven, a policy whose consequences are being witness today.

The article goes on “If the New Hampshire primary — where populist candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders resoundingly thrashed their establishment rivals — gave us anything to go by, the United States could be approaching a similar moment. Populist candidates threaten the two pillars that have dominated establishment views on U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War: liberal economics and liberal interventionism. Take the liberal economic commitment to open markets, represented in the 2016 presidential race by support for the Trans Pacific-Partnership (TPP) trade deal. Rapid globalisation since the end of the Cold War has generally benefited skilled workers in Western countries in the middle and upper class, those who can sell their services to the world and enjoy cheap and varied goods. But for many lower-middle class Americans, globalization is perceived not as a warm summer breeze, but as a biting winter wind. Their once-stable manufacturing jobs have been sent overseas, immigrants compete with them for low-paying jobs at home, and incomes have stagnated. Shockingly, blue-collar white men are the only group in America whose life expectancy has actually declined since 1999, due mainly to suicide and substance abuse. Yes, globalization brings blue-collar Americans cheap goods too, but that makes no difference to social mobility: it’s unsurprising that the link between individual freedom and economic liberalization pushed by establishment candidates rings hollow to all too many American ears”.

Correctly the writer points out that “Trump and Sanders have channeled this visceral and inchoate anger in their rejection of the TPP. More recently, Sen. Ted Cruz has jumped on the anti-TPP bandwagon, although he has equivocated on exactly what his position is — perhaps not surprising, given his vexed claim to be running as an anti-establishment candidate, his Princeton and Harvard Law School pedigree and marriage to a Goldman Sachs banker notwithstanding. By announcing their opposition to the TPP, the populists have sent Hillary Clinton running for cover, despite her role in sculpting the deal as secretary of state during President Obama’s first term. Gov. John Kasich is for the TPP, saying he is “pretty much for open” trade. But he too has equivocated, saying that “American workers have been shafted” and that he “want[s] to make sure that the workers in this country are protected.” The only candidates to have thrown their full weight behind TPP are Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio”.

Of course there is nothing wrong with free trade, per se, but there must be safeguards built in to both weaken its power and soften its effects. Then and only then will the remaining blue collar workers see sense in its benefits. Nations such as Sweden and Denmark have government programmes that seem to provide the best of balance.

The report oges on to mention “liberal internationalist economic policies may still find a thin majority of support after the November election, given their benefits to much of the middle- and higher-earning tranches of the American electorate. Moreover, there is a good argument that you can’t reverse globalization anyway, since the information revolution is here to stay and protectionist policies won’t do much to insulate blue-collar workers from a rapidly changing information economy”.

Worryingly the writer notes “the other pillar of post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy — liberal interventionism — is on the verge of policy oblivion. The failures of Iraq and Libya have been a stick that Trump, Cruz, and Sanders have used unrelentingly to beat Hillary Clinton. With nothing to parry them with, she’s simply had to take these blows, and the bruises are increasingly starting to show in the polls. In her last debate with Sanders, Clinton argued that a vote against invading Iraq in 2002 — which Sanders cast and Clinton did not — is not a plan to defeat the Islamic State now. She’s right, but this argument suffers from the fatal defect that the Islamic State would not exist in its current form were it not for these interventions”.

Yet the problem is not with intervention, it is with half hearted intervention. The cycle is that an event happens that needs US power but politicians are afraid of public opinion so they only do a half hearted intervention. This results in a disillusioned public which further begets the cycle of public dismay. Instead what is needed is powerful intervention not done on a budget but done well with appropriate planning. Then when leadership is shown support for these plans will subsequently rise. However, this also means that until such action is taken the cycle will continue unabated. Yet, this argument by the author need nuancing. Trump, for all his stupidity, and Cruz, have both, at times, called for more interventions. Cruz is especially true on this point, while Trump has staked out no clear position calling for both more and less intervention. Thus to say that interventionism is dead is perhaps a stretch too far.

The writer goes on to argue “The force of the populists’ argument on this point isn’t hard to grasp. As should be rather obvious from the label, regime change can create ungoverned space, into which transnational, networked terrorist groups will flow, especially when there’s no replacement plan, as the experiences of Iraq and Libya showed us. The Kurds aside, this is the problem with arguing for regime change in Syria. The West has no alternative to the Assad regime even if the man himself goes, so regime change would very likely create a political vacuum filled by a cocktail of radical Islamic terrorists. The United States would ultimately be forced to accept that reality, or to redeploy American forces to pacify the region — both outcomes for which the U.S. electorate has zero enthusiasm. This geopolitical reality has left Clinton with no choice but to more or less avoid the issue of regime change, and instead focus only on the narrow question of the Islamic State, and on humanitarian precautions such as no-fly zones that won’t change the direction of the conflict. The only candidate fully on board with regime change in Syria appears to be Rubio, who has clashed vigorously with Trump and Cruz on the issue. While Rubio claims, not unreasonably, that Assad encourages the likes of the Islamic State, he also has no explanation whatsoever for how regime change would prevent a Libya-like jihadi-fest”.

The article goes on to mention “the broader idea of spreading democracy and human rights seems to be grinding to a halt. Apart from some vague statements of “concern,” none of the candidates has seriously challenged Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s ruthless political repression in Egypt, or the widespread allegations of ethnic cleansing by the Iraqi government’s Shiite militias against the Sunni population. Of course, the implicit narrative now is that the Islamic State, not democracy, is the priority. But this masks a more fundamental reality flowing from the 4,500 U.S. dead and $2 trillion-debt burden for an Iraq War that handed Baghdad to Tehran on a platter. Whatever the Iraq War was supposed to be in the world of counterfactuals — if the weapons of mass destruction had been there, if the Iraqi Army had not been disbanded, if Bush had extended the status of forces agreement to keep troops in Iraq beyond 2011, if Obama had not withdrawn troops in 2011, and so on — the war that actually took place was, without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest U.S. strategic disaster since Vietnam. With that plain reality in mind, Rubio’s zealous enthusiasm for regime change seems wildly out of touch with the U.S. electorate”.

It ends “Ultimately, only economic superpowers or dictatorships can drive foreign policy independently of domestic considerations — and Britain was neither in 1967. America is an economic superpower, but also a democracy, which explains both why foreign policy can be pushed beyond domestic considerations for long periods of time, but also why it can all too suddenly come crashing down”.


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