Tag Archives: Mario Del Pero

Obama & Reagan: Foreign Policies in Comparison

Unlike Reagan’s prompt reaction to the events of 1983 in Beirut, the supposed passivity of the current American president, shown following the attack in Benghazi, is needed to orientate himself in a situation undergoing progressive, and above all, unpredictable change. In fact, preventative actions of a military nature would worsen the perception of the U.S. presence in conflict areas and in those which are most geopolitically sensitive.

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter the attack on the American embassy in Benghazi and the killing of Ambassador Stevens, President Obama responded with a resolute but cautious approach, in line with the foreign policy choices of his first term: “The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack … No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”

The voluntary preference for the term “act of terror,” and not “terrorism,” shows to what extent the strategy in presidential foreign policy, specifically in the Middle East and North Africa, is focused towards a path which diverges from that of the previous Bush administration, with both linguistic and cultural discontinuities. Behind such language there also lies the undeniable need to put into perspective a constant, and often exploitable, reference to the “Islamic” matrix of the attacks. The will to not concede to the easy temptation of military intervention further confirms the overall tendency towards caution and reflection.

A different reason for this behaviour is to be found in the additional aim of reaching a stabilisation of the political situation in the Middle East and a complex re-evaluation of the image of the United States. The current U.S. president has acted in awareness of America’s political limits in such a context, and has favoured an approach which is more pragmatic than the traditional idealism typical of U.S. foreign policy. The American presence in Middle Eastern and North African affairs during the 20th century has resulted in increased tensions, particularly post-9/11and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ordered by Bush. Anti-American sentiment, demonstrated by terrorist actions against sensitive U.S. targets, has grown in the last decade: it is one of the greatest problems faced by Obama, who was also elected for his promise of comprehensive normalisation.

Even the recent trip to the Middle East, described by the press, unsurprisingly, as a “maintenance trip“, showed Obama’s approach to be particularly tentative, almost reflexive, and his reluctance to take more incisive action, by virtue of a high-profile repositioning away from typical frenzied American interventionism.

The title of Fawaz Gerges’ essay, which appeared in March in Limes, effectively sums up  widespread opinion on the so-called Obama doctrine: “Barack the Cautious.” Gerges’ words underline Obama’s pragmatism in the Middle Eastern context, focused on maintaining the status quo by avoiding ideological excesses and encouraging a calmer atmosphere. According to Gerges, this approach is the result of a deliberate American disengagement from the Middle East, in favour of the Pacific. Michele Basso, however, wonders just how realistic this outcome is, and alternatively to what degree a pivotal role in crisis contexts is still a determining factor for America, thus confirming Washington’s presence, albeit in a “softer” manner.

In many respects the same policy of re-evaluation and American outplacement came to be implemented, albeit with different strategies, by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The stated objective was to regain credibility among Middle Eastern countries as well as to encourage a process of pacification, however in a strategic framework strongly influenced by the 1982 Westminster Address. Reagan’s doctrine was based on the idea of facing the Soviets at a global level in low-level-intensity conflicts, that is, those not directly fought between the two superpowers, also supporting guerrilla groups and opponents of philosocialist or pro-communist regimes wherever necessary. This aspect of Reagan’s foreign policy, imbued with an anti-communism which was as superficial as it was simplistic, had a positive influence in the direct conflict with Moscow in the long term, but greatly tarnished the image of Americans in other contexts. The U.S. invasion, often maladroit in essentially local matters, such as conflict between Israel and Palestine, or between Iraq and Iran, led to a tightening of international relations, particularly in Lebanon, Iran, and Central America. The American intervention in Lebanon in support of Israel against the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which had exploited the civil war to undermine the Israelis, was considered an act of interference. The reaction to this “reintegration” in the area was very violent with a long series of attacks and abductions of hostages that characterised the entire Reagan presidency. The most shocking episode, which was in a certain sense similar to that of the embassy in Benghazi last year, was in October 1983 in Beirut, which saw the death of more than 200 Marines. The attack, then claimed by Hezbollah, led to a ramping up of American political choices at global level.

Reagan’s reaction was therefore quite different from that of today’s commander-in-chief. The then Republican president showed no reluctance to talk of “terrorism”, condemning the attack and planning a military response, which resulted in the Urgent Fury mission in Grenada. Despite the facade of a reasoning which concerned the defence of civilian and military Americans in the country, where there had been a resounding advance of the philosocialist regime, in so doing Reagan expressed the will for a muscular politics which would restabilise the predominant role of the United States.

Such a modus operandi seems to have been abandoned by Obama, who has always refused military involvement akin to that of the Reagan era. According to Del Pero’s reading, the re-elected president has initiated a policy of “low cost interventionism”, characterised by a general caution, “approaching passivity,” dictated by the pledges established by President Obama himself in electoral campaigns. Observers within the international community are currently reflecting on the validity of this approach with respect to issues in the Middle East and wonder about the need for the U.S. to play a more decisive and incisive role.

At the same time, one should not forget that the president has not completely abandoned the instrument of interventionism: for example, the uses of drones in war zones or in operations like the one that led to the killing of Bin Laden.

In its results, such behaviour does not appear far removed from Reagan’s more aggressive approach, as the escalation of anti-Americanism in the Middle East and in neighbouring regions does not appear at all diminished. At this time the greatest doubt is found in asking whether Obama’s current foreign policy is an almost obligatory and voluntarily considered choice to change the balance of power in ever-changing contexts, especially in light of the great political and cultural upheavals of recent years. It is highly likely that the American president’s supposed passivity is needed to orientate himself in a situation undergoing progressive, and above all, unpredictable change. In fact, preventative actions of a military nature would worsen the perception of the U.S. presence in conflict areas and in those which are most geopolitically sensitive.

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Original Article: Obama e Reagan: visioni e scelte strategiche a confronto 

Translated by Lois Bond

Photo Credit: isriya

 

Obama e Reagan: visioni e scelte strategiche a confronto

Diversamente dalla pronta reazione di Reagan dopo gli avvenimenti del 1983 a Beirut, la presunta passività dell’attuale presidente americano, mostrata in seguito all’attentato di Bengasi, è necessaria per orientarsi in una situazione in progressiva, e soprattutto, imprevedibile evoluzione. Infatti, azioni preventive di tipo militare peggiorerebbero la percezione della presenza statunitense nelle aree di conflitto e in quelle geopoliticamente più sensibili.

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[dropcap]D[/dropcap]opo l’attentato all’ambasciata americana di Bengasi e l’uccisione dell’ambasciatore Stevens, il presidente Obama ha risposto con un atteggiamento risoluto ma cauto, in continuità con le scelte di politica estera del suo primo mandato: “The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack … No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for“.

La volontaria preferenza per la locuzione “act of terror” e non “terrorism” dimostra quanto la strategia presidenziale in politica estera, nello specifico in quella mediorientale e nordafricana, sia orientata lungo un percorso divergente rispetto alla precedente amministrazione Bush, con una discontinuità sia linguistica che culturale. Dietro tale linguaggio si nasconde anche l’evidente necessità di ridimensionare un costante, e spesso strumentale, riferimento alla matrice “islamica” degli attentati. La volontà di non cedere alla facile tentazione di interventi militari conferma ancor di più la complessiva tendenza alla cautela e alla riflessione.

Una diversa motivazione di questa condotta è rintracciabile nell’ulteriore obiettivo di pervenire ad una stabilizzazione della situazione politica nel Medio Oriente e ad una complicata rivalutazione dell’immagine degli Stati Uniti. L’attuale presidente degli Stati Uniti si è mosso nella consapevolezza dei limiti politici dell’America in tale contesto e ha preferito un’impostazione realista al tradizionale idealismo tipico della politica estera statunitense. La presenza americana nelle vicende mediorientali e nordafricane nel corso del Novecento ha favorito l’acuirsi di tensioni, in particolare dopo l’11 Settembre e le guerre in Afghanistan e Iraq ordinate da Bush. Il sentimento antiamericano rinvenibile nelle azioni terroristiche contro obiettivi sensibili USA, accresciutosi nell’ultimo decennio, è uno dei maggiori problemi affrontati da Obama, eletto anche per la promessa di una complessiva normalizzazione.

Anche il recente viaggio in Medio Oriente definito dalla stampa, non a caso, un “maintenance trip”, ha mostrato l’approccio di Obama particolarmente attendista, quasi riflessivo e restio ad un intervento più incisivo, in virtù di un riposizionamento d’alto profilo lontano dal frenetico e tipico interventismo americano.

Il saggio di Fawaz Gerges, apparso a marzo su Limes, ben sintetizza nel titolo un’opinione assai diffusa sulla cosiddetta dottrina Obama: “Barack il cauto”. Nelle parole di Gerges si sottolinea il pragmatismo di Obama nel contesto mediorientale, orientato al mantenimento dello status quo evitando eccessi ideologici e favorendo un clima più sereno. Secondo Gerges, questo atteggiamento è frutto di un voluto disimpegno americano dal Medio Oriente in favore del Pacifico. Michele Basso, infatti, si chiede quanto quest’esito sia realistico, o quanto invece sia ancora determinante per l’America un ruolo pivotale nei contesti di crisi, confermando dunque la presenza di Washington seppur in maniera più “soft”.

Sotto molti aspetti la stessa politica di rivalutazione e ricollocamento americano venne attuata, sebbene con strategie differenti, da Ronald Reagan negli anni Ottanta. L’obiettivo dichiarato era quello di recuperare credito fra i paesi mediorientali nonché di favorire un processo di pacificazione, in uno schema però fortemente influenzato dal discorso di Westminster del 1982. La dottrina Reagan si fondava sull’idea ben definita di fronteggiare i sovietici a livello globale nei conflitti a bassa intensità, ossia non direttamente combattuti tra le due superpotenze, sostenendo laddove necessario anche gruppi di guerriglieri e oppositori di regimi filosocialisti o filocomunisti. Proprio questo versante della politica estera reaganiana, intrisa di un semplicistico quanto superficiale anticomunismo, incise positivamente nel confronto diretto con Mosca nel lungo periodo ma deteriorò fortemente l’immagine degli americani in altri contesti. L’invadenza statunitense, spesso maldestra, in faccende prettamente locali come il confronto tra Israele e Palestina o tra Iraq e Iran, condusse ad un irrigidimento delle relazioni internazionali in particolare in Libano, Iran e Centro-America. L’intervento americano in Libano, a supporto di Israele contro la Palestine Liberation Organization, che aveva sfruttato la guerra civile per insidiare gli israeliani, fu considerata un’azione di interferenza. La reazione a questo “reinserimento” nell’area fu molto violenta con una lunga serie di attentati e rapimenti di ostaggi che caratterizzarono l’intera presidenza Reagan. Il più clamoroso, ed in un certo senso assimilabile a quello all’ambasciata di Bengasi dello scorso anno, fu quello dell’ottobre del 1983 a Beirut, che vide la caduta di oltre 200 marines. L’attentato, poi rivendicato da Hezbollah, condusse ad un’estremizzazione delle scelte politiche americane a livello globale.

La reazione di Reagan fu perciò ben diversa da quella dell’odierno commander-in-chief. L’allora presidente repubblicano non ebbe nessuna riluttanza a parlare di “terrorism”, condannando l’attentato e pianificando un’azione militare di risposta, concretizzatasi nella missione Urgent Fury a Grenada. Nonostante la motivazione di facciata riguardasse la difesa di civili e militari americani nel paese, dove vi era stata una clamorosa avanzata del regime filosocialista, così operando Reagan manifestava la volontà di una politica muscolare che ristabilisse il ruolo predominante degli Stati Uniti.

Un tale modus operandi sembra sia stato abbandonato da Obama, che ha sempre rifiutato un coinvolgimento militare simile a quello dell’epoca Reagan. Secondo la lettura data da Del Pero, il rieletto presidente ha avviato una politica di “interventismo low cost”, improntata ad una generale cautela, “prossima alla passività”, dettata dalle premesse gettate dallo stesso Obama nelle campagne elettorali. Gli osservatori della comunità internazionale riflettono attualmente sulla validità di questo atteggiamento nell’approccio alle questioni mediorientali e si interrogano sul bisogno di un ruolo più decisivo e incisivo degli Stati Uniti.

Allo stesso tempo, non bisognerebbe dimenticare che il presidente non ha abbandonato del tutto lo strumento interventista: basti pensare all’utilizzo dei droni nelle aree di guerra o ad operazioni come quella che ha portato all’uccisione di Bin Laden.

Una simile condotta, nei risultati, non appare assai lontana da quella più aggressiva di Reagan poiché la spirale di antiamericanismo in Medio Oriente e nelle regioni limitrofe non appare affatto attenuata. In questo momento il dubbio maggiore consta nel chiedersi se l’attuale politica estera obamiana sia una scelta quasi obbligata e volontariamente prevista per mutare i rapporti di forza in contesti in continua evoluzione, anche alla luce dei grandi stravolgimenti politici e culturali degli ultimi anni. Molto probabilmente la presunta passività del presidente americano è necessaria per orientarsi in una situazione in progressiva, e soprattutto, imprevedibile evoluzione. Infatti, azioni preventive di tipo militare peggiorerebbero la percezione della presenza statunitense nelle aree di conflitto e in quelle geopoliticamente più sensibili.

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Photo Credit: isriya

American Exceptionalism & The Shaping Of US Foreign Policy

The resort to the nationalist ideology of American Exceptionalism by both sides of the political spectrum is not just a temporary electoral trick, but a signal of a deeper state of uncertainty and concern rooted in the history of the American republic.

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he growing electoral debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney has been focusing on, among many other issues, the meaning of American Exceptionalism, after years of dismissal from the public arena. This comeback to an ideological lexicon, concurrent with an historical period marked by economic turmoil and political uncertainty about the predominant role of the United States in international relations, can be explained by digging into its own origin in order to get a better understanding of what is now at stake within the current debate over the American greatness.

The resurgence of American Exceptionalism should be framed into the historical evolution of the concept, in order to relate it to the relevant political backdrop. Indeed, although many commentators attribute the coining of the term to Joseph Stalin in 1929 – who’s condemnation of American Exceptionalism was based on capitalism being an exception to Marxism’s universal laws – the ideological roots are to be found in the famous puritan John Winthrop’s speech in 1630. Winthrop alluded to the Arabella’s passengers escaping England as the “city upon the hill” for future people: drawing upon Matthew 5:14–15, Winthrop articulated his vision of the forthcoming Puritan colony in New England as an example of a truly godly society to be admired and imitated by England and the world.

However, Thomas Paine made the greatest contribution to the definition of the American national ideology, when in his “Common Sense” pamphlet written in 1776 he described America as a the rampart of liberty for the world. In addition, the French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville confirmed such a self-perception of political uniqueness in 1840.

What is interesting, and worth noting, is that the ideology of exceptionalism, coupled with a keen interest in commercial trade, marked the first years of American independence with a new kind of foreign policy approach characterized by the intertwined relationship between interests, values and self-representation, by working as the mobilizing domestic driver of the American role in the world. As a matter of fact, as the Italian historian Mario Del Pero puts it, unilateralist foreign policies have been implemented every time national interest and international inspiration overlapped, by reflecting on international level the nationalist rhetoric (as occurred in 1898, 1914, 1941 and recently along with the neo-conservative political resurgence), in order to give Americans order to their vision of the world and defining their place within it.

Despite some prominent scholars (such as Stephen Walt) having tried to debunk the myth of American Exceptionalism and to rule it out from the possible explanatory variables of US foreign policy, stressing that its conduct has been determined firstly by the relative power and the competitive nature of international politics, contemporary debate has refocused its attention on this issue. This resurgence has come about in no small part due to some surveys carried out by Gallup, according to which American nationalism is booming within the United States: 80% of its population believes in the unique character of their country because of its history and possession of a constitution that make it a different, and the greatest nation in the world.

Indeed, nationalism is quite a common means for uniting divided populations and can act on two different levels: domestic and international. As for the former, nationalism comes out as unifying and mobilizing factor when economic difficulties and political challenges arise. For instance, national reaction and popular refusal to the “Malaise Speech” by President Carter in 1979, gave a big thrust to the Reaganian propaganda on international level: as a matter of fact, the 40th President of the United States based his electoral campaign on the saving role of the American leadership against the Evil Empire led by the Soviet Union.

Currently, given the end of the unipolar moment, the beleaguered state of American economy combined with its military troubles (with its expenditure being cut and it being overstretched from East Asia to Western Europe), as well as an increasing dysfunctional governance and the decline of American legitimacy abroad, the United States is in a very uncomfortable position. The resort to the nationalist ideology of American Exceptionalism by both sides of the political spectrum is not just a temporary electoral trick, but a signal of a deeper state of uncertainty and concern rooted in the history of the American republic.