Δευτέρα, 04 Μαϊ 2020

The U.S. Foreign Policy at Crossroads: The effect of ultra-Jacksonianism

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Feng Menglong, a celebrated Chinese novelist and poet of the late Ming period, once said that it’s better to be a dog during peacetime, than a human in times of war. He said nothing though about the best condition for a prominent state in times of high uncertainty.

The post-Cold War era, for reasons that mainly had to do with Washington’s pragmatism not to pursue the goal of global domination, did not lead to the systemic transition from a stable bipolar to a stifling unipolar international balance of power. The U.S., perhaps because International Relations Theory is an American Science, comprehended that any attempt of taking its win over the world beyond the Iron Curtain to the next level, i.e. the establishment of a Pax-Americana, would have turned out to be catastrophic for its soft power and also for the nation’s hard-power and economic capabilities. Thus, the U.S. welcomed the unfolding of a new systemic structure where Russia, China and India were to play a new advanced role in international politics and in international trade as a secure step to boost the globalized economy. However, as usual, things did not follow the normative path. The emergence of a highly antagonistic instead of a mere asymmetric interdepended multipolar system, together with the appearance of nihilistic militant groups such as Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram or Al Shabab, produced a novel geostrategic mosaic, where international politics are experiencing a constant blend of political volatility, financial unpredictability and systemic inconsistency. Apparently, the new era that we are living in is being characterized by constant military friction, economic volatility in its most extreme form since the end of the Second Industrial Revolution, the apotheosis of radicalism and the prejudiced endorsement of populism both in domestic and in international politics for reasons that relate to uneducated political elites and societies in the perplexities of the Hobbesian international arena. Yet, while during the 20th century the U.S. was the western key-element that was able and willing to intervene in order to offer a way out of conundrums, i.e. the establishment of the League of Nations or the issuing of the Truman Doctrine and of the Marshall Plan, today it seems that the ‘shinning city on the hill’ by embracing ultra-Jacksonianism operates as a passive train-spotter instead of behaving like it did during the past, when in various occasions it accepted responsibility by leading from the front.

While the COVID-19 pandemic hit extremely hard the American economy the U.S. still preserves its primacy in the international order.

The main oxymoronic fact about the American status today is that the U.S., unlike what various analysts and experts are arguing about, is not getting weaker. On the contrary, the American economy is still the strongest globally, it is an energy giant, it leads the most powerful military alliance in human history, i.e. NATO, it is a technological pioneer in Artificial Intelligence and in developments related to the 4th Industrial Revolution, while American soft power dominates the global day-to-day evolution. International politics is not a zero sum game equation but a continuous comparative process. While the COVID-19 pandemic hit extremely hard the American economy, especially the core of the blue-collar America, the U.S. still preserves its primacy in the international order. This can be clearly seen if someone compares the current economic and political qualitative or quantitative indexes of the U.S. with those of China, Russia or India. The gap in-between is still hefty. However, this must not be seen as a success of the current Presidency but rather a result of the immense ontological capacity of the United States of America. Thus, I argue that the true challenge the U.S. is facing today is, first and foremost, a management crisis instead of an existential one.    

The prevailing Ultra-Jacksonianism, which today can be fully seen in the ‘MAGA’ socio-political thesis, makes the American eagle to behave as an ostrich, with clearly poor results in the nation’s prestige. This can be seen especially today during the global COVID-19 crisis, where the U.S. shows an isolationist super-ego that totally differs even from the ‘good-old’ protectionist mode of the Monroe Doctrine. A rift with the World Health Organization and an on-going domestic lack of social unity project, for the first time since the end of the American Civil War, a feeble image of the U.S. that does not meet the critical conditions that humanity is facing in the current times of high distress.

For example, in the Eastern Mediterranean the ultra-Jacksonian eremitism gives the opportunity to the two profoundly revisionist states in the region, i.e. Iran and Turkey, to maximize their agenda at the expense of regional peace and security. For instance, Iran has tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium since November 2019, according to International Atomic Energy Agency, a fact that puts the state within reach of the amount needed to produce nuclear weapons. On top of that, despite the fact that Iran is being hardly tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Iranian navy continues to harass American warships as clearly demonstrated by the mid-April episode in the North Arabian Sea.

Turkey, runs wild in destabilizing Greece through the weaponization of tens of thousands of human souls that are encouraged to cross the Aegean Sea and reach the Greek islands, while analogous events took place during February in Evros River which is the north Greek-Turkish frontier-line which intensified the political tension between the two NATO members. Washington, despite its supportive statements towards the Greek side seems not able to control Ankara’s opportunism that can be clearly seen in the open flirt between Turkey and Russia, despite the fact that the two sides hold a completely different stance in Syrian and in Libya too. Yet, the S-400 purchase by Turkey and the deep infiltration of RUSATOM in the Turkish energy market reveal that the bonds between Moscow and Ankara are strong and go deeper than the geostrategic level.

American Foreign Policy is at the crossroads of history once again, only this time the COVID-19 pandemic is making things even worse.

The Ultra-Jacksonian approach, the extreme ideological branch of normative Jacksonian ideology that aims at the lessening of the American exposure at the international level, offers the worst services possible to the U.S. Foreign Policy in the Eastern Mediterranean today. Iran and Turkey both feel that they both have the capacity to act in the most provocative way with no consequences for their erratic behavior, while the American prestige rapidly weakens in a region that had long and enduring links with the Atlantic ideals.

It goes without saying that if the U.S. desires to spend less time dealing with international affairs without permitting the sudden collapse of the post-Cold War international status, then is essential to counterbalance its systemic unresponsiveness with providing sustenance for the empowerment of the infrastructure in key-regions such as the Eastern Mediterranean. Local economy must be assisted to reach an adequate technological level in order to meet the demands of the 4th Industrial Revolution, while Washington should enhance the military and political cooperation between those states in the Eastern Mediterranean that are able and willing to act as guardians of the region’s peace and security against those revisionist elements that maximize the possibilities of a general collision. The American Foreign Policy must work closer with its reliable allies in the Eastern Mediterranean to ensure that the region will maintain its western status and construct more durable and efficient deterrent mechanism against the various rogue elements that thrive at the moment. Perhaps, Jacksonianism is the formidable ideological narrative in Washington at present, alas, in its most extreme and entrenched mode, and the American public after a long period of being around and about in the most profound Hobbesian alleys of the globe feels the urge to return to Ithaca, yet if Iran and Turkey would be allowed to pursue their revisionist agendas against the other states of the region then the Eastern Mediterranean will enter in its most fluctuating phase since the end of WWII. Such a turn will require from the U.S. to adopt a Hamiltonian approach, hence opening a new circle of international exposure for the American hard power with Washington being in the unpleasant position to maximize its efforts in order to fill the gap that it created by itself. It goes without saying that the American Foreign Policy is at the crossroads of history once again, only this time the COVID-19 pandemic is making things even worse. Despite the King is not naked, everyone around believes otherwise and as long as this leadership gap will be continued political volatility, economic instability and geostrategic uncertainty would endure not only in the Eastern Mediterranean but globally.    

* The painting is: Pieter Bruegel, The Fight Between Carnival and Lent 

Λίτσας, Σπύρος

Spyridon N. Litsas is Professor of International Relations at the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki, Greece. He is a Visiting Professor [non-Resident] of International Relations and Strategic Analysis at the Joint Supreme College of War of the Hellenic Armed Forces while he also held the position of the Visiting Professor of International Relations and Eastern Mediterranean Politics at the Institut d’ etudes politiques de Grenoble (SciencesPo at the University of Grenoble) from 2017 until 2019. He is teaching, researching and publishing on War Theory, Strategic Analysis, Jihadism, Politics of the Eastern Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa, US & Russian Foreign Policy in South-Eastern Europe, Turkish Foreign Policy, EU Politics. His most recent publications include:


Follow him on Twitter: @Spyros_Litsas