Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Domestic Politics Does Affect Foreign Policy

Over at Dan Drezner’s site there was an interesting discussion concerning what, if any, impact domestic politics, in the context of a US government shutdown over the budget, has on foreign policy. It is not as narrow as the post suggests. The budget issue in the US is only one political piece of the puzzle – a big one, but in general it forms only one component over the struggle for political dominance in the US. The question posed is thus what effect do domestic political decisions have on foreign policy in any country. In the context of the budget issues in the US, the professor takes the position that it has no effect.

I can’t agree. In the US, this battle is only one skirmish in the larger war being waged by Republicans on behalf of their contributors and right wing core supporters. It has implications for the wider war and domestic politics almost always impacts foreign policy because it affects the players even if the policy does not extend beyond the borders.

Take a look at France. France has often intervened in its former African colonies – in Chad against Qadaffi’s invasion, in Gabon (twice) and the Central African Republic (an incredible 5 times, the last in 2006). They have been in Cote d”Ivoire since 2003 – so the current cooperation with the UN peacekeeping forces to remove Gbagbo from power after his defeat in the election is simply a continuation of their involvement. However, the aggressive stance recently taken by Nicolas Sarkozy in Africa in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire may also be seen as a result of his low standing in the polls. It can’t hurt since the rise of the French right poses a serious threat to his incumbency. Sarkozy, despite being correct about Libya, is clearly attempting to boost France’s (aka, his image) to increase his standings for the elections next year.

Chancellor Merkel’s policies toward Russia are clearly influenced by domestic affairs. Like keeping the lights on and supporting domestic manufacturing. The German economy is heavily dependent on Russia and Russian energy. A faltering economy costs her politically.

Does anyone need a reminder about China’s internal monetary policies and their international impact?

In the US, domestic politics has a clear impact on foreign policy – and sometimes results in positions that are against US interests. One need look no further than Israel where any sign of slipping support draws the instant wrath of the evangelicals. The power of evangelicals over Republicans is clearly effective and has helped isolate the US while, in the case of the Middle East, actually act against its interests Fortunately they do not have overwhelming power, but should they ever succeed in taking over the domestic political reins completely, then US foreign policy will become a threat to peace.

One need only look at the positions that someone like Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), arguably the dumbest person in the Senate courtesy of the people of Oklahoma. He was on the floor of the Senate backing Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to step down after losing an internationally certified election in November in Cote d’Ivoire. Inhofe condemned the intervention of French and UN forces to install the internationally recognized elected president Alassane Ouattara. Want to know why? Domestic politics.

Can you say “C Street” the halfway house for fallen politico Christians, especially evangelical types who have been caught attending brothels, gaming houses etc? Right wing Christians support Gbagbo because he is Christian. Ouattara is Moslem. For evangelicals Muslim = bad, Christian = Good. That is, except if the Muslim is a dictator who supports and/or supplies oil to the US. The “C Street” gang and their nationwide followers support Gbagbo who has been on the US Christian right gravy train for a long time. Both he and his wife are evangelical Christians. They have attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast run by the Christian group called the Family. Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting supports him. Domestic politics can drive foreign policy.

Dig deeper and you find that the Christian right supported Charles Taylor and Michelle Bachmann was against the ouster of Mubarak. Christian evangelicals applauded the death penalty for gays in Uganda. The Christian right has never met a brutal Christian they didn’t like.

So I disagree. Domestic politics can have, and has had, a serious and sometimes adverse effect on foreign policy in the US at least. The budget debates in the US are only a small part of the struggle for control which, depending on the winner, will ultimately impact foreign policy. So, for all you progressives out there in the US who sat on your collective assess and pouted like 6 year olds in the last election, this is what will come to pass if you do it again. Inhofe, Michelle “I promise only one term, maybe” Bachmann, Huckabee and all their compatriots will be in control of domestic and foreign policy. Domestically, science will disappear and affect US international competiveness as children are taught the planet is around 5,000 years old and dinosaurs lived with humans; social programs for the poor and elderly will vanish; foreign policy will revert to military intervention first, middle and last and the income gap will only become worse.

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