The Candidates and The World

Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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Foreign Policy Update: The Race and the U.S. Role in the World

by Newsteam Staff
May 31, 2012

Workers repair lights on a globe outside a mall in Manila April 22, 2012 (Cheryl Ravelo/Courtesy Reuters). Workers repair lights on a globe outside a mall in Manila April 22, 2012 (Cheryl Ravelo/Courtesy Reuters).


As part of their series on twelve campaign issues facing the next president, the Brookings Institution recently hosted a panel discussion examining the U.S role in the world.

Despite the United States’ longstanding status as the world’s biggest superpower, rapid globalization and new security threats have raised questions about its role in the international order, and how President Barack Obama or GOP rival Mitt Romney will deal with these new global challenges while protecting U.S. interests at home and abroad is of great concern.

Here are some highlights from remarks by Brookings fellows:

Bruce Jones said debating whether the United States is in decline is the wrong way to look at the current global situation. “The simple fact is there are new factors in the world, there are new actors or new economic relations and we have to adjust our policy to deal with those,” he said. He also points out that for the last sixty-five years, the international system was built, protected, and promoted by U.S. power with a series of alliances that allow for global cooperation and multilateralism. “I don’t see anything in either campaign, anything in the policy of the president or anything that Romney has said, that is going to change either of those two fundamental realities,” Jones said. “I think they are core tenets of the relationship between American power and international order and are very likely to remain true over a long period of time. But the reality is that we confront mew challenges.”

Strobe Talbott said “there is not a great deal of difference” between what is emerging as a Romney platform on foreign policy and the actual
foreign policy of the Obama administration thus far. The one glaring difference in approaches, which Talbott said he thinks will fade as Romney moves from a primary-driven stance to a more center, general-election position, is Romney’s “cheap bashing of other countries” from the campaign trail, particularly Russia and China. Talbott’s big question for a second Obama term is if it will be more ambitious and successful than the first, delivering agreements on a nuclear test ban treaty or climate issues that were discussed in 2008 campaign but have not materialized.

Homi Kharas said that the campaign has remained focused on the economy and that the global economy will continue to be of major importance in the next  four years. Throughout the current global economic crisis, the traditional U.S. leadership role “has been very limited and it is posing a problem,” he said. Kharas said his big question for the campaign trail is, which candidate is more likely to pursue a multilateral approach to global economic governance?

For more on the candidates’ stances on major foreign policy issues, check out all of CFR’s Issue Trackers.

CFR’s Renewing America project looks at six domestic issues challenging the ability of the United States to project power abroad including U.S. debt and deficits, trade, and corporate regulation.

At the inaugural meeting of of the Council of Councils in March, CFR President Richard N. Haass and World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick discuss the changing global economy and the U.S. role in it.

Romney adviser and Brookings fellow Robert Kagan discussed the idea of a U.S. decline and rising China earlier this year.

— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor

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