POLSCI 001 LAVC US Foreign Policy Article Summary


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In a summary discuss what are some of the main points addressed in this article relating to our US Foreign Policy?  Do you agree that our foreign policy needs to be “remade” and not “restored”?  Support your response by using the article provided.March/ April 2021
Volume 100 • Number 2
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U.S. Foreign Policy Must Be Remade,
Not Restored
Jessica T. Mathews
The contents of Foreign Affairs are copyrighted ©2021 Council on Foreign Relations, Inc. All rights
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The failures have also been domestic.
To date, the United States has handled
the covid-19 pandemic worse than any
other major country. Americans make up
only four percent of the world’s populabut account for a staggering 25
U.S. Foreign Policy Must Be tion
percent of global covid-19 cases and 19
Remade, Not Restored
percent of deaths from the disease. The
failure has come at all levels: a stunning
lack of national leadership, an alienated
Jessica T. Mathews
population unwilling to make modest
sacrifices in the common interest, and a
or years, Joe Biden has portrayed health-care system that is deeply inequithe presidency of Donald Trump table and administratively fractured.
as an aberration from which the
These maladies predated Trump, of
United States can quickly recover.
course. President Barack Obama’s
Throughout the 2020 U.S. presidential
administration had to design internacampaign, Biden asserted that under his tional agreements such as the Paris
leadership, the United States would be
climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal
“back at the head of the table.” But a
in a way that would avoid the need for
return to the pre-Trump status quo is
formal ratification, because the world
not possible. The world—and the
knows that the U.S. Senate has been
United States—have changed far too
unable to approve a multilateral treaty
much. And although hailing the return
for nearly 15 years, even one modeled
of American hegemony might seem
directly on U.S. domestic law. But
comforting to Americans, it reveals a
Trump’s “America first” populist nationdegree of tone-deafness to how it sounds alism has cut deeply into the foundation
to the rest of the world. When people
of American foreign policy, as his admini­
elsewhere look at Washington’s track
stration called into question long-standing
record over the past two decades, they
alliances, embraced authoritarian rulers,
don’t see confident leadership. What
denigrated allies, and withdrew the
they see, instead, are a series of disasters United States from a wide range of
authored by Washington, chief among
international agreements and organizathem the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the
tions that it founded. Beyond the moves
subsequent destabilization of much of
that garnered headlines were a great
the Middle East and the 2008 global
many more that made it impossible for
financial crisis. During those decades,
valuable institutions to operate. Under
Washington also pursued an ineffectual
Trump, for example, the United States
war in Afghanistan, an incoherent policy vetoed every nominee to the World
in Syria, and ill-judged humanitarian
Trade Organization’s Appellate Body,
interventions, most notably in Libya.
purposely keeping the number of judges
below the required quorum and thereby
JESSICA T. MATHEWS is a Distinguished
depriving all 164 wto member countries
Fellow and former President of the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace.
of the means to resolve disputes.
Present at the
f o r e i g n a f fa i r s
illustrations by david plunkert
Present at the Re-creation?
March/April 2021
Jessica T. Mathews
In short, what Biden regularly calls
“the power of our example” is nothing
like what it used to be. When it comes
to the pillars of a law-abiding democracy, the United States is now more an
example of what to avoid than of what
to embrace. The country retains military primacy and the economic heft to
impose sanctions, but the former has
limited utility, and the latter are seldom
effective when wielded unilaterally. To
achieve its ends, Washington will have
to heal at home—a long, slow process—
while it rebuilds its power to persuade.
As secretary of state, Antony Blinken
will likely lead an important effort to
rebuild morale and effectiveness within
the country’s diplomatic corps, luring
back talented professionals who fled
Trump’s chaos, broadening recruitment,
pursuing reforms to make the department’s work more efficient and creative,
and appointing diplomatic veterans to
key posts at home and abroad. But such
steps will take a long time to make a
difference. Meanwhile, Biden’s team
may be seriously overestimating the
leverage that the United States retains
for initiatives that depend on its example, such as the global summits the
president wants to convene on climate
change and renewing democracy.
Facing a globalized world in which
power is dispersed and the United States’
reputation is diminished, Biden will
confront cautious, even skeptical foreign
partners—a challenge to which American
leaders are unaccustomed. Much of his
agenda will have to be carried out through
executive orders, which, the world knows,
can be just as quickly undone by the next
president. Foreign governments understand that last year’s presidential election
was not a repudiation of Trumpism. Even
f o r e i g n a f fa i r s
close allies have therefore been forced
into a dangerous game of American
roulette, dealing with a United States that
can flip unpredictably from one foreign
policy posture to its opposite. The logical
response for them is to hedge: avoiding
major commitments and keeping their
options open, even when it comes to U.S.
policies that would otherwise be welcome. In such an environment, everything that Washington hopes to achieve
will be more difficult.
Unless there is a current crisis, foreign
policy generally plays a negligible role
in U.S. elections. That was never more
true than in the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, in which every contender
named repairing democracy at home as
the most important “foreign policy”
priority. Biden was an extreme example.
The fact sheet that accompanied his first
major foreign policy address, delivered
in October 2019, listed “remake our
education system” as the first bullet
point and “reform our criminal justice
system” as the second.
Nor was foreign policy a significant
topic in the general election campaign,
even though the past half century has
shown that what occurs overseas is more
than likely to determine a president’s
legacy. Disastrous wars or foreign
imbroglios severely damaged the administrations of five of Trump’s nine most
immediate predecessors: Lyndon
Johnson (the Vietnam War), Richard
Nixon (Vietnam, again), Jimmy Carter
(the Iran hostage crisis), Ronald Reagan
(the Iran-contra affair), and George W.
Bush (the Iraq war). Foreign policy is
also the source of sudden surprises that
call for leaders with experience in rapid,
Present at the Re-creation?
high-stakes decision-making and a
knowledge of recent history. Nonetheless, voters don’t seem to care much—
and thus neither do most candidates.
Still, Biden’s intentions can be inferred
from his record in government, from what
he has said and written in the past few
years, and, particularly, from his early
high-level appointments. Although
together those things shed a good deal of
light on what he will try to do, it is too
early to know what a U.S. Senate that
features the thinnest possible Democratic
majority will allow him to accomplish or
how doubting foreign governments will
respond. Unknowable, too, are the effects
of dangers now building offstage, the
kinds of systemic shocks that have become
almost a norm of the last several decades.
Finally, there are practical issues of
sequencing that get lost in campaign
rhetoric. For instance, it is one thing to
say, as Biden has, that new trade agreements will have to wait until after the
federal government has made major
investments in infrastructure and research
and development; it is quite another thing
to do that in practice. The world won’t
take a time-out while the United States
makes badly needed repairs at home.
It is certain that Biden will make two
overarching changes to the foreign
policy of Trump and his secretary of
state, Mike Pompeo. Biden understands
the strength inherent in Washington’s
network of allies and friends and will do
all he can to rebuild close relationships
with them, especially in Europe. He
will also reverse the Trump administration’s dismissive attitude toward multilateral problem solving and the international institutions that make it possible.
Washington will now show up at even
the most boring meetings, represented
by officials who know something about
what is being discussed and who support, rather than oppose, the mission of
the international organizations that
convene them. These will be sweeping
changes, welcomed around the world.
Among specific priorities, climate
change is clearly at the top of Biden’s
mind. The president has assembled a
team whose strength signals the weight
he attaches to this issue: a former secretary of state (John Kerry) as a special
envoy on climate, an experienced former
head of the Environmental Protection
Agency (Gina McCarthy) in a newly
created senior environmental post in the
White House, a highly regarded state
official (Michael Regan) to lead the epa,
and a former Michigan governor
(Jennifer Granholm) known for her
expertise in alternative energy sources,
especially electric vehicles, as head of
the Department of Energy.
Conversely, Granholm’s nomination
to lead the department (75 percent of
whose budget goes to nuclear weapons
and infrastructure) and the choice of
the retired general Lloyd Austin to head
the Department of Defense suggest that
nuclear issues will not be a priority, as
neither of them, nor Biden’s national
security adviser, Jake Sullivan, is a
widely recognized expert in this area.
Biden will act immediately to extend the
New start agreement with Russia, the
last remaining major nuclear arms
control treaty. And he will be prepared
to spend a great deal of political capital
to rejoin and rescue the Iran nuclear
deal. But there are many other consequential items in the nuclear portfolio.
As vice president, Biden took a strong
stance in favor of reducing the role of
nuclear weapons in U.S. defense stratMarch/April 2021
Jessica T. Mathews
egy, limiting their use to deterrence
rather than war fighting. The Trump
administration took the opposite
position, and Biden will need to try to
wrench policy back toward his preferred
course. Meanwhile, the country is in the
early stages of a second nuclear arms
race, this time with both China and
Russia. A bloated, $2 trillion nuclear
modernization program is underway that
urgently requires reexamination. Also,
new technologies are being developed
that will raise the likelihood of an
unintended nuclear war and erase the
once sharp barrier between conventional
and nuclear conflicts. Addressing any of
this successfully will require leadership
from someone of real stature in the field.
Throughout the campaign, Biden spoke
of his intention to craft “a foreign policy
for the middle class.” No other theme
was as prominent. In practice, however,
his administration will have to face the
question of whether such a thing actually
exists. Changing the rules of international trade is a small part of the answer,
but technological change has played a far
larger role than trade in the loss of
high-paying U.S. manufacturing jobs.
That may be why, when discussing how
his foreign policy will help Americans,
Biden tends to veer quickly from trade
to other issues: a higher minimum wage,
better education, more affordable health
care. All of those are important, but
none is the province of foreign policy.
Biden’s “Build Back Better” economic
plan promises enormous federal investments in infrastructure—roads, railways,
the electric grid, and broadband Internet—and in research and development in
f o r e i g n a f fa i r s
certain sectors. This is old-fashioned
industrial policy. Whether it is good
economic policy and where the money will
come from are debatable issues; whether
they are the stuff of foreign policy is not.
The more closely one examines the
specifics, the more the concept of a foreign
policy for the middle class slips away.
First among the true foreign policy
challenges is the need for a balanced,
nonideological approach to China.
Beijing’s military buildup, its provocative maneuvers in the South China Sea,
its increasingly repressive policies
(including egregious human rights
abuses against Uighurs in Xinjiang and
a crackdown on pro-democracy activists
in Hong Kong), and its withholding of
critically important information on the
emergence of the novel coronavirus that
led to the covid-19 pandemic all form a
threatening backdrop. The United
States has no choice, however, but to
develop a strategy for successful coexistence with this fast-rising economic and
military power. Trump’s approach
swung from fawning praise of Chinese
President Xi Jinping to unrelieved
enmity and pointless name-calling. The
administration’s single achievement on
China was a ballyhooed trade deal that
pushed the most important structural
issues to a second round of negotiations—which never took place. Beijing
pledged to buy an additional $200
billion worth of U.S. goods and services
but has not come close to actually doing
so. Meanwhile, the percentage of
Americans with an unfavorable view of
China has increased from 47 percent at
the beginning of Trump’s presidency to
73 percent last fall, according to the
Pew Research Center. Even in the
business and financial sectors, which
Present at the Re-creation?
still hope to profit from access to the
huge Chinese market, views on China
have turned decidedly negative.
To reverse the downward spiral in
relations, Washington needs to abandon
the lazy habit of demonizing China and
drop the pretense that the contest with
Beijing is an ideological struggle akin
to the Cold War. Instead, the United
States needs to identify China’s legitimate interests in Asia and around the
world and determine what Washington
should accept, where it should try to
outcompete China, and what it must
confront. It should base its posture on
its relations with allies and potential
partners across the region, recognizing
how conditions have changed since the
global financial crisis and avoiding an
approach that would force Asian governments to choose between the two
superpowers. Washington should get
back into multilateral trade and economic
agreements in Asia and join forces with
European countries in its approach to
Beijing, rather than allowing Europe to
become a battleground in the U.S.Chinese rivalry. Most urgently, Beijing,
Taipei, and Washington (including
some heedless members of the U.S.
Congress) must recognize that the “one
China” policy is in imminent danger of
unraveling after having kept the peace
in an interrupted civil war for four
decades. Instead of maintaining the
policy’s delicate balance of ambiguities,
Trump and Pompeo played a game of
chicken, thus inviting massive and
utterly unnecessary risks. If the agreement falls apart, the possibility of war
between China and the United States
will be high, since for the United States
to back away from a fight would mean
abandoning its commitment to a
democratic ally at tremendous reputational cost. A U.S.-Chinese war would
be unlikely to stay nonnuclear.
Biden has taken office at a moment when
the broad bipartisan consensus that
underlay U.S. foreign policy for half a
century following World War II has
collapsed. Since the end of the Cold
War—and especially since the end of
the so-called unipolar moment of the
1990s—Americans have debated what
kind of world order is most in their
interest and what role the United States
should assume in it, without any common view emerging.
U.S. foreign policy specialists fall into
two broad camps, one of which advocates
continued U.S. leadership globally and
across the full spectrum of issues. The
other believes that the United States
should define its interests more narrowly
with regard to both where and what.
Within the former group are those who
argue that the world requires leadership
and there is no alternative leader to the
United States now or on the horizon.
Some go further, claiming that U.S.
interests inevitably will be damaged more
by doing too little than by trying to do
too much. They favor a unilateral brand
of leadership and generally approve of
armed interventions. They tend to rely
more on familiarity with the past than on
insight into the future, and they largely
ignore the force of domestic public
opinion. Others see a more restrained role
for the United States as the first among
equals in a multilateral community.
Recently, some in this first camp have
begun to question the fitness of the
current order in a world characterized
March/April 2021
Jessica T. Mathews
by surging populism and authoritarian
governance. They argue for an order
defined by a coalition of democracies on
one side in opposition to authoritarian
governments on the other. Biden sometimes gives unsettling hints of sharing
this view. Should such an order emerge,
the world would be less likely to deal
successfully with the global challenges
that pose the greatest risk to everyone:
nuclear proliferation, corruption, cyberwar, pandemics, and climate change.
The second camp sees the U.S. track
record of the past 20 years as evidence
that Washington has gotten used to
defining its interests too broadly, which
has led to a habit of starting wars and
military interventions without a clear
national interest at stake. Some who hold
this view argue for a major retrenchment,
paring back the definition of U.S. core
interests to include little more than
relations with China, Russia, and Europe.
Promoting democracy, advancing human
rights, helping poorer nations develop,
and other goals that have consumed U.S.
foreign policy in the past three decades
would lie beyond those boundaries.
Others advocate a much more modest
correction, focused mostly on pulling
back from the troubled Middle East.
It seems unlikely that this debate will
be resolved within the next four years.
Far more than in a typical presidency,
foreign policy during Biden’s time in
office will be devoted to undoing a
mountain of his predecessor’s mistakes,
consuming not only time and diplomatic
effort but also political capital. A good
deal of what can be accomplished will
depend on whether would-be Trump
successors in the Senate make a return
to “America first” policies a main thrust
of their public postures. And although
f o r e i g n a f fa i r s
the various expert views on foreign
policy do not line up exactly with the
differences between the two political
parties, the country’s deep polarization
and the almost even partisan representation in Congress mean that nearly every
policy shift will be a political battle.
Meanwhile, public opinion is divided. In
2016, the last time the Pew Research
Center asked Americans to describe their
country’s global role “in terms of solving
world problems,” 41 percent of respondents said the United States did “too
much,” 27 percent said “too little,” and 28
percent said the United States did “the
right amount.” Finally, fresh thinking is
always hard to come by, absent a major
upheaval. Decades ago, the U.S. diplomat Harlan Cleveland was fond of saying
that what Washington needed was
“postwar thinking without the war.” That
remains true—but is unlikely in the
present environment.
If the Biden administration continues as early indications suggest, it will
fall squarely into the first of the two
broad camps, and if it stumbles, it will
be because it looks too much to the past
and tries to do more than the country’s
resources, will, and reputation can
currently support. It will try hard to
make progress on key issues, although
it may overreach in attempting to
promote democracy. But if it can
develop a strategically sound relationship with China, reassert itself in
relations with Russia, pursue economic
policies that see international economic
growth as a win-win and not a zerosum competition, and recapture the
confidence of allies and friends, it will
have done more than enough to be
proud of, even without leaving behind a
new foreign policy consensus.∂

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