Gone are the days when the United States led major powers in the decisions that ruled the planet, writes Ian Bremmer at the Daily Beast. Could Obama or Romney make the most of our new reduced role in international affairs?
Over the next few months, the Obama and Romney campaigns will occasionally set aside discussion of the country's most pressing domestic issues—the ethical treatment of dogs, the virtues of motherhood, and the tantrums of Ted Nugent—to take on the foreign-policy issues of the day. Unfortunately, their messages will be crafted to win votes, not to offer a coherent vision of America's evolving role in the world. We can hope that whoever wins the November election recognizes that changes at home and abroad will define America's next generation of challenges and opportunities, but the signs are not always encouraging.
Earlier this year, Governor Romney warned that Russia is "without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe." It's as if he hasn't noticed that Russia lacks the Soviet Union's global military reach, its network of allies, and its ideological appeal for dozens of developing states. Russia is not the No. 1 geopolitical anything.
But the Obama team's response was almost as strange. White House press secretary Jay Carney countered that "clearly the preeminent threat to the United States" is al Qaeda, a claim that seems calculated mainly to remind us of President Obama's most widely celebrated first-term achievement—the killing of Osama bin Laden—rather than to lay out a plan for the next four years. The al Qaeda brand of militant nihilism has lost much of its power. Many of its leaders have been killed or captured, and the movement was all but irrelevant during the Arab Spring uprisings. The White House focus on al Qaeda appears to leave the Obama team a half decade out of date, while the Romney campaign seems stuck in 1978.
In reality, any administration's greatest foreign-policy challenge can't be summed up with the name of a single country or terrorist cell. Instead, Job One will be to develop a doctrine that allows U.S. policymakers to adapt to the demands of a changing America and a changing world.