Hobbes lives on in the American foreign policy debate
I looked forward to watching the last presidential debate about foreign policy as the subject affects so many all over the world. Yet, the debate turned out to be quite a disappointment. It evolved as a show of the realist (not to be confused with realistic) view that describes the international arena as an anarchy with individual nation states as the most important actors. The primary concerns of those states are survival. From this outdated perspective the debate was held. It was as if Hobbes raised form his grave 350 years after his death to expresses concerns of a war of all against all.
The first 70 minutes of the debate were solely spent on terrorism, national security and consequently the threats in the Middle East. Of course, those are important topics. But the world is bigger than that. There is much more happening in the world. What about China, the second biggest economy in the world and the major owner of American debts? And the rest of Asia that is booming? What about the EU in crisis? What about Latin America? What about the development of Africa? Well, after 70 minutes on the Middle East I hoped we had a half hour left over to cover those topics.
Indeed, after 70 minuets of talk about terrorism, military and national security the topic finally turned, when the moderator Bob Schieffer said (and I quote): “Lets go to the next segment, because it is a very important one. It is the rise of China and future challenges for America.” Finally, not a debate about hard power, but about economics, trade, cooperation, etc. I thought. Of course, I couldn’t be more wrong. Schieffer continued by saying: “I just was to begin this by asking both of you and, mister president, you go first this time: What do you believe is the greatest future threat to the national security of this country.” I was flabbergasted. What?! National security again! No, I did not leave out any sentences in between these two quotes.
It must be said that Obama did a good job in answering this question by stressing that the biggest threats are still terrorist networks and quickly went to the topic of China by saying that they can be a potential partner in the international community. Maybe there is still some hope! But soon the conversation turned to the topic of a trade war. War again, the common theme of the debate.
When Obama was elected four yours ago I really hoped that the American realist view would change after eight years of Bush and an even longer history of realist thinking. But four years is not enough. I hope the Americans are aware that this kind of attitude, of seeing the international arena in terms of enemies instead of possibilities of cooperation, only contributes to the fact that so many people around the world dislike the United States. They dislike this, because this view comes with an aggressive international policy.
So many people I met all over the world see the United States as an aggressive and arrogant country. The statements of both candidates that America is the greatest the country in the world and the world needs a strong America doesn’t help either. Nevertheless, America is the most powerful country of the world and their policy affects us all. Therefore, it would be best for everyone that Hobbes is finally buried and the realist approach will be replaced by a more cooperative vision.