Adrian Hamilton: Dismiss Romney if you must. But he's the true face of the US

 

Share

Mitt Romney's gaffe-ridden visit to Europe has been passed off with the general conclusion that this man couldn't possibly be president of the US or, at least, would be a disaster if he were. But we shouldn't be so hasty to dismiss him. It isn't that he is a better man or politician than he appeared to Europe's jaded appreciation. He may well be every bit as bad. But the foreign policy he espoused, or rather the set of prejudices he pursued, reflect precisely the assumptions of the US at large.

Like David Cameron and Tony Blair before him, this is a candidate driven by opinion polls far more than conviction. What the polls say is that the majority of Americans believe that support for Israel is the most important single tenet of US foreign policy, that Iran is the biggest single state enemy to be confronted, and that Poland, rather than Germany or France, best expresses America's beliefs on the Continent.

You can say, as every commentator has, that Romney's mis-steps mean nothing back at home, that it is the domestic economy not foreign policy which will determine the outcome of the election. It is precisely because foreign policy doesn't matter electorally but remains the area of greatest presidential freedom of action, however, that Romney's views should worry us over here. Democrats may try to make political capital out of his international competence but they are not prepared to challenge his assumptions.

To be fair to President Obama, he has at least managed to keep at bay the demands for military action against Iran or intervention in the Arab Spring. What he has not been able to do is to break out into a new and imaginative policy towards the Middle East, engagement with Iran, negotiations with North Korea or an effective alliance to Pakistan. Events in these countries have hardly made it easy for him. Congress has also been far from helpful. But then neither has Obama's preference for consensus.

President Obama's first term has at least witnessed a retreat from the excesses of President Bush's ill-fated foreign ventures. The US has withdrawn from active military engagement in Iraq and is now set on doing the same from Afghanistan. Other than this, however, it remains stuck in the past.

It is always unwise to underestimate US resilience, especially economically. In many ways, its retreat from foreign involvements should be welcomed after the disasters of Bush. But as the presidentials get under way, Britain and America's European allies need to face some stark facts. One is that US power is not only waning but is seen to be waning through much of the world. Another is that, whoever wins the forthcoming election, American policy is unlikely to regain much initiative.

It is always possible that a Republican Administration under Romney might encourage the Israelis to bomb Iran and set off a new Middle East conflagration, but in terms of what the US does itself in Afghanistan, against Iran or in the Middle East or Asia, a policy of passivity is likely to continue.

There is no appetite in America for foreign ventures (heaven be praised!) nor can Washington throw its weight around when it is so short of economic muscle itself. America is turning in on itself, and China, for all its new assertiveness, is far too self-obsessed to fill the vacuum, any more than India, Brazil or the other emerging economic powers.

Which leaves the UK precisely where? We can't go on trying to exert influence as junior partner to Washington. Even Cameron seemed to understand that at the beginning – before he was seduced by a special "rapport" with Obama and his wife.

We have no policy towards Europe other than turning our back on it. The Libyan venture proved, if proof was needed, that we no longer have the military muscle to affect foreign entanglements without American support – but these are entanglements that America no longer has an appetite for. Depreciating sterling has helped the economy but cannot give us German success. At least the Olympic Games have brought President François Hollande and now Vladimir Putin to London, but it is to catch some of the glory of their own athletes not to pay court to Cameron.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: odd pub names, final polls in Scotland and war historians

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: We are winning the fight against extreme poverty and hunger. It's time to up the ante

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week