Obama administration foreign policy took a turn once again toward the aggressive, with Secretary Clinton vowing to do more to promote democracy and human rights in Russia and among its neighbors:
“There is a move to re-Sovietize the region,” Clinton lamented.
“It’s not going to be called that. It’s going to be called customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that,” she said, referring to Russian-led efforts for greater regional integration. “But let’s make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.” [ . . . ]
“It’s distressing that 20 years into the post-Soviet era . . . so many of the hoped-for indicators of progress are retreating,” Clinton said. “And the impact on individuals and organizations is becoming more oppressive.”
As Clinton barked, Congress bit. The Magnitsky Bill was passed yesterday in the Senate and will now head to President Obama’s desk for signing into law. On the one hand, the bill implements a new trading relationship with Russia based on that country’s membership in the WTO, but on the other it puts sanctions on Russian officials allegedly involved in the torture and murder of Russian lawyer and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.
We are a long way from 2009, when the Obama administration was accused of “apology tours” and global retreat. Between armed intervention for democracy in Libya (and perhaps Syria soon), growing pressure on Iran, and deep engagement in the politics of countries like Egypt and Tunisia, the U.S. is as much in the mix in the Middle East as ever. The “pivot to Asia” changed the geopolitical realities of that region and has involved the U.S. in a much sharper challenge from China. The recently announced push for TAFTA, combined with the TPP in Asia amounts to the boldest push for global integration and trade liberalization since the days of the push toward the WTO and NAFTA at the end of the Cold War. Now added to all that, the U.S. is talking tough on Russia again. Throw in the drone strikes and the continuing (though rarely mentioned) global war on terror, and this is not looking much like the foreign policy many of his supporters thought this President would bring to the White House.
Here at VM we think on the whole that this is a good thing, though we have our disagreements over timing, methods, and particular actions. However one describes Obama’s foreign policy, it is certainly ambitious. And it’s certainly not the strategy of a power that is preparing to settle back into a comfortable decline and senescence.
As the bill comes due for all these initiatives, it will be interesting to see whether and how the administration will pay for them; it will also be interesting to see how peace Democrats on the party’s left and realists assess the new foreign policy as its full dimensions gradually unfold. Everyone will be watching to see if Hillary Clinton’s as-yet-unnamed successor continues her push for a bolder American approach.
But the ambition, global scope, and confidence in American power now being projected by the Obama administration are unmistakable. What we don’t know is how it will all work out.