Reading Ahmednasi Abdullahi's diatribe against the United States' foreign policy in the Sunday Nation, this blogger is compelled to ask: What, exactly, would one expect of the world's policeman? (The duplicity of America's foreign policy, 11/08/13) In the relatively uncomplicated world of the Cold War, foreign policy was reduced to an either/or equation: you were either in the Western Bloc (the US, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, et al) or you were in the Soviet Bloc, led by the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialists Republics. Then came the event the Western Bloc had been working towards, the fall of the Berlin Wall and with it the Soviet Union. For a time, the world had only one hyperpower, though in the past decade the United States' stature has diminished because of the 2001 terrorist strike by al Qaeda and the decade of war in the Middle East.
Many, wrongly, assumed that the United States would prosecute its foreign policy with them in mind. Nothing in US history suggests that this would or could happen. When Calvin Coolidge declared that the [chief] business of America is business, he signalled to the rest of the world that US foreign policy would be guided by its desire to dominate the world markets for its own profit. Nothing in the intervening century or so suggests that US foreign policy has shifted to taking into account the interests of its interlocutors ahead of its own. So, we ask again, in pursuing its interests in the Middle East, what would Mr Abdullahi have President Obama do?
What we must consider is how the Middle East will react to US policy. The options, especially for the dictatorships that agree with the US line, are severely limited. If they wish to trade successfully in the world, they must take into account how the world's most vibrant market will react to their moves. China has come to appreciate the special place the US occupies in world markets that even while it rises as a powerful counterforce to the United States in Asia, it will not do anything that will jeopardise its relationship with the world's leader in banking, finance and technology.
These are the choices that confront the dictators in the Middle East. If they dare pursue policies that place American interests at risk, they know that their legitimacy in the Middle East, in their homelands and in the corridors of world finance will come under increased pressure. Whenever there is a hiccup in the supply of crude oil, it is only after the United States starts to feel the pinch in the spot market that Saudi Arabia, the country with the largest spare capacity, will lead the rest of the OPEC to pursue policies designed to calm the oil market.
In his first major address to the Arab world, Barack Obama promised to listen more and to promote the rule of law and the interests of the people in the governments of their choice. His naivete was charming. Realpolik eventually put paid to his lofty goals. He has a constituency to appease back home. American voters, especially the committed hardcore that votes in party primaries and caucuses, will not stand idly by as the US President places the interests of foreign powers ahead of those of the United States. They will punish the President by electing Representatives and Senators who will make it their mission to scuttle all his foreign policy plans. Mr Obama, regardless of his personal abhorrence for the use of drones in undeclared wars, will continue to pursue America's enemies if it means maintaining peace at home. The US voters will force him to retreat on his programme of spying on the electronic communications of Americans, but they will not forgive him if he does so too for foreigners out to destroy the American Way of Life.
This is the reality that Mr Abdullahi must grapple with. If the United States was a world government, and the citizens of Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt had a say in its foreign policy, then Barack Obama would not be able to walk all over them in the name of US national security. If the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund had the power to compel the United States to do as it was told, then Barack Obama would always go, cap in hand, to their headquarters for permission to do what needed to be done to keep the American homeland safe. But they don't and he won't. In the words of George HW Bush, Barack Obama will never apologise for America doing what needs to be done in order to feel safe.