America’s New Role in the World

With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton closing in on their respective party nominations, one thing has become crystal clear within the American political spectrum: Nation-building and being “policeman to the world” are definitely unpopular among a vast majority of the US electorate. The bi-partisan foreign policy built in the aftermath of WWII is now officially over. In America, the neo-cons are dead politically, while the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party ceases to exist. The US-led world hegemonic order has lost its allure while the global economy has faded as an instrument of growth.

From Europe to East Asia, all of America’s allies have become astonished by the apparent eclipse of the seventy-year-old global order. But should they be so astonished? Globalization as an economic enterprise broke down in the colonial era, leading to the onset of WWI, and it broke down again in the 1930s, causing a serious depression. This led to the second World War. The geopolitical world order led by the post-war American economic liberal order has not been without major crises and contradictions. Even with a major success against the old Soviet Union (driving Russia into retreat and bankruptcy), this American economic order became its own worst enemy.

The crisis of the 1970s was caused by the dominance of US labor, its political demand for greater federal benefits, and the global necessity of maintaining a “policeman-to-the-world” military and fiscal structure. In other words, as inflation intensified throughout the 1970s, something had to give. From the perspective of Wall St. and the upper class, US labor needed to be disciplined through outsourcing of US manufacturing. Meanwhile the dollar needed to be protected through the global demise of the myriad barriers surrounding the world’s currency markets. In the process of this reformulation the dollar stabilized, as US manufacturing re-invented itself to become strictly high-end and technologically advanced. As overseas investment spread out, from a national low-end manufacturing chain to many global low-wage hubs (including “communist” China as a tool to discipline the US-worker middle class), foreign currency profits flowed into US debt instruments. Wall St. boomed as Main St. lost its high-wage glue. Workers suffered terribly, and with them, so too did the once vast American small-business class. Small producers were replaced by transnational corporations, while local distributors were eradicated by mega-chains.

The two Bill Clinton administrations rode this advanced tech-bubble wave to great advantage. But by the second George W. Bush term, the combination of wage stagnation, credit profligacy and vast consumer debt led directly to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. When the US housing bubble burst in 2007-2008, the American working class slowly began to understand that it had been made scapegoat, and that the American global system was stacked against it. So, for the next eight years, these working middle-class voters punished the so-called “party of the rich” and voted in opposition to the Republican establishment.

But Barack H. Obama was no answer to the demise of middle-class wages and benefits. On the contrary, Obama bailed out Wall St., saw the stock and bond market skyrocket, did little or nothing about low wages, crippled small business with a myriad of regulation, and failed miserably at spurring the economy to hire college graduates. The “system” seemed to work for only a very small proportion of the people, those folks who already had either plenty of money or well-paid jobs in corporations or government. What Obama did do, however, was to change the course of US foreign policy. America was no longer to be “the policeman to the world”. A vacuum of US leadership was created in Eastern Europe (especially Poland), the Middle East (among America’s Sunni allies and Israel), and even East Asia. Obama turned away from allies in favor of negotiations with long-term enemies. The Iran nuclear negotiations were a prime example of Obama’s penchant for regional compartmentalization.

The American presidential election season of 2016 has been like no other since the rise Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Both political parties have been reinvented and hardly represent the image they possessed just ten short months ago. Donald Trump appears to have overthrown the conservative establishment and in the process turned the Republican Party into an “America First” neo-isolationist, anti free-trade and overtly nationalist conglomeration of multiple contradictions. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s inheritance of the Democratic Party has not been without a genuine revolt of its own. Clinton has been pushed far to the left by an independent Marxist who perceives America’s role in the world to be imperial and not worth maintaining.

Make no mistake, a vast segment of the American people are in revolt against the Wall St. establishment and everything that the global liberal order represents in terms of economic distribution. This is true of Republicans and Democrats alike. Meanwhile, the world’s economic situation becomes more and more precarious by the day. How much more debt can the world system sustain before a multitude of financial bubbles pop? This is anybody’s guess, and it has literally become a multiple trillion dollar question. China continues to re-inflate, even though it already has entire “ghost cities” of unbought apartments and shopping centers. Japan and Europe are experimenting with negative interest rates, while in the US even the Wall St. Journal has begun writing articles about “helicopter money” (money printed to pay for vast federal deficits without having to resort to conventional US Treasury borrowings).

In such a worrisome environment, simple solutions have a kind of political magic. Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have all presented campaigns with very simple answers to very complicated political, economic and diplomatic questions. Trump blames the stupidity of the “establishment” for all the world’s ills. He presents himself as the only smart one in the room who can figure everything out. Sanders blames the “billionaire class” for the contradictions of a global system which represents millions upon millions of workers, who could very easily be crushed by an economic meltdown that could easily be caused by Sanders’ own untoward political rhetoric. Meanwhile, Cruz has total faith in limited government as a cure-all for global capitalism, even though capitalism first began to go global in the 19th century with the rise of industrial empires.

Hillary Clinton will not run as an establishment candidate. She might lose if she does. But at least Hillary understands the complexity of America’s position in the world both from a military and an economic perspective. The future prospect for this world will depend on a diplomacy of world peace. This is especially true in our era of extreme capitalist planetary limitations. If the world economy doesn’t completely tank before the election, there is an increasing likelihood that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States. She will be in a much tougher spot than her husband ever was. Not only will she be America’s first woman president, but she will still have to deal with an extremely fragile global economy in an era of mass discontent. Hence, she will have little room to maneuver back toward the center.

Hopefully, however, Hillary Clinton will become by necessity a truly great foreign policy president. Unlike her predecessor, Hillary can be the one American politician to lead the Middle East forward toward a new beginning. This is an absolute must. The same is true for reset buttons with both Russia and China. Unlike Obama, Hillary understands that she must deal with Syria, because Syria holds the possibility of a dramatic US-Russia showdown. And with each passing day, we come closer and closer to such a showdown. America’s Middle East allies need an American president with creative answers to the black hole at the vortex of the Levant. Obama never came up with a coherent policy; Hillary must.

Israel could very easily become entrapped by the gravitational pull of the global geopolitical vacuum at the center of the Middle East. Syria is once again near to escalation, as Obama continues to stumble through as lame-duck-in-chief. Anything can happen in such an environment. It is definitely not too soon for the Clintons to send Mr. Putin a message of rapprochement. The same is true with the Chinese. Neither Trump, Sanders nor Cruz have a vision for a new American role in the world. It’s up to the Clintons to establish a new global order that will replace the fraying doctrine of the post-Cold War era.

The policy conceived of during the first Clinton presidency — to expand NATO eastward — has now outlived its usefulness. For progress to be made in the Middle East, a new European security architecture must be put on the table for negotiation. This structure has become the Putin entry ticket for cooperation on Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The next administration must decide the nature and direction of the Middle East in cooperation with Russia, because such a project is now politically impossible without such international cooperation. The same paradigm also appears necessary because of a national weakening of the EU, as the vestige of a German-French partnership expanded absurdly into the geography of the Warsaw Pact countries.

The same is true in the Pacific. The TPP as a geopolitical instrument simply won’t abide the revolt of the American working class. And the isolation of China militarily can never lead to anything but eventual chaos in the economic sphere. Americans are simply exhausted from buying from abroad. Hillary the candidate knows this first-hand. America in the 21st century cannot continue to be the consumer of last resort. The same is true for America’s role as “policeman to the world”. Even Donald Trump understands this.

The Clintons have always been good friends of Israel and the Jewish community in America. We all pray that in this Passover season, Hillary Clinton will become the rational and inspired leader our world-village needs. It is now definitely time for this woman to bring forth some out-of the-box wisdom to a planet in dire need of real answers to very perplexing problems. Hillary could become the first female commander-in-chief. As such, it would be more than appropriate if she also became America’s first real international cooperation and peace president. We all would wish her well in such an endeavor not because she’s a woman but because, unlike the other three men, she is by far the most qualified. Personally, I wish her G-d-speed.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).