Now that both the Democratic and Republican party conventions in the US are over and the election is less than two months away, many in Asia must be wondering what Romney would do differently if he were elected. The answer is nothing, or almost nothing. The fundamentals of US foreign policy change little, with perhaps a few aspects highlighted more than others at specific times. Taking a controversial issue, the 2003 Iraq war for example, between 1990 and 2003 one administration built on what had come before. This was true irrespective of the party and will be true in Asia also.
Former US president George H.W. Bush drove Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991. Former US president Bill Clinton followed on from this and signed the Iraqi Liberation Act in October 1998, which made it official US government policy to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In December 1998, Clinton ordered cruise missiles to be fired at Iraq. Many in his administration had been pushing for the overthrow of Saddam for years. Clinton’s then-national security adviser, Sandy Berger, as well as then-vice president Al Gore were pushing especially hard for the Iraqi dictator’s overthrow.
Former US president George W. Bush said during the 2000 election campaign that he was tired of the nation building on the policies of its predecessors. Yet, this was the same administration that invaded Iraq. In 2008, those hoping for a change in direction after the election of US President Barack Obama were sorely disappointed. Obama has carried on the policies of the Bush administration. He has not closed the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, after saying he would, and has reinstated military trials after suspending them. When Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden in May last year his remarks could just have easily come from the mouth of the former governor of Texas.
Similarly, the US’ Asia policy remains generally the same. One example is the six-party talks — composed of China, the US, South Korea, Japan, Russia and North Korea. The talks that began in 2003 under George W. Bush continued through his administration and were passed on to the Obama administraion. Following the 2009 North Korea missile test and the sinking of a South Korean submarine the following year, last year the US and the North Korean regime held bilateral talks. In February this year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that he would halt nuclear tests and allow the return of international inspectors in return for food aid. Some have suggested that this could pave the way for a return to the six-party talks.
In an article published in the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 16, US Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney laid out his vision of US-China relations. Romney said that a possible “Chinese century” where there are limited individual rights “would become a widespread and disquieting norm.” He went on to criticize Obama’s pivot strategy, a strategy which was elucidated by US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton’s Foreign Policy article America’s Pacific Century.
Romney makes the spurious claim that this pivot means leaving “our allies with the worrying impression that we left the region and might do so again.” This is of course patently false. The US never really “left” Asia, with the US having continually traded, and sometimes warred, with its Pacific neighbors throughout its history.