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Svenska Dagbladet, Sweden

Is Barack Obama
about to Abandon Us?



By Claes Arvidsson

It is almost a political axiom in the U.S. that a president who does not have a reelection to think about is freer to act on the world stage. The nomination of Hagel hints, rather, that there aren’t any eternal political truths.

Translated By Grace Olaison

9 January 2013

Edited by Daye Lee


Sweden - Svenska Dagbladet - Original Article (Swedish)

Chuck Hagel is a Vietnam War veteran who still has grenade shrapnel in his body. He needs no on-the-job-training as secretary of defense. Thus runs at least one argument in favor of President Obama’s nomination of the former Republican senator to the new secretary of defense post. Hagel himself has said that it is his experiences in the Vietnam War that shaped his opinions of the U.S.’s role in world politics — wars should not be protracted and nation-building ought not to be a task for the U.S.

It is hardly surprising that neoconservative Republicans aren’t celebrating over the nomination, but for the rest of the world, the critical question is whether the nomination is an expression of a political shift.

As a newly elected president, Obama roused such great hope in the foreign policy arena, sufficient hope for a Nobel Peace Prize, despite the fact that he had barely had time to move into the White House. A new start with Russia, a strategic partnership with China, firefighting in the Middle East, and the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — much expectation wound down to nothing more than expectations.

It is almost a political axiom in the U.S. that a president who does not have a reelection to think about is freer to act on the world stage. The nomination of Hagel hints, rather, that there aren’t any eternal political truths.

One reason that foreign policy didn’t become a political chorus number for Obama during the first mandate period is, of course, due to a concentrated focus on resolving the acute economic crisis. The crisis is also a reason why foreign policy in the coming years will not in any obvious way have priority of place. Obama and Congress barely succeeded in avoiding the fiscal cliff, but a definite solution has yet to be agreed upon.

Finding a way out of the economic crisis will have first priority. The U.S. armed forces are anticipating cuts and reduced capacity. Meanwhile, potential independence from energy imports, created by the possibility of extracting shale gas, is changing America‘s view of the outside world. The Middle East does not have the same significance for the U.S. as before — although, in reality, there remains an indirect dependency in the form of price shocks, even for the U.S., and the risk of a depression in Europe and China if energy flow from the Gulf were to peter out.

Usually, American activists pronouncedly criticize the U.S. for interfering in other nations' politics. However, when foreign policy leans toward isolationism, the brouhaha that erupts is due to concerns that the U.S. doesn’t care. Politics’ pendulum swings, but the U.S.'s actions also concern what will actually happen going forward, for example in Syria or in Iran. Hagel is said to be more open for direct negotiations with Tehran, but if he takes over, he will direct plans for a last-resort war to put an end to the Iranian nuclear bomb.

The pendulum’s swing is not just a reflection of political outlook, but also of the fact that the U.S. does not have the same weight in world politics as in the decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In a world that is developing in a multipolar or apolar direction, the U.S. cannot act the lone sheriff, but must be able to tackle an entirely new way of seeking collaboration and allies. For Europe, this is both a threat and an opportunity.



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