Traps for U.S. Foreign Policy in the Period of 2025-2029
At a time when political campaign events are in full swing with a view to the November 2024 US presidential elections, forecasts about individuals and parties are multiplying, both with a view to the highest executive office and with respect to majorities and minorities in senates and federal and state houses.
Little is written, however, about those domestic issues that will have to be addressed in one way or another by the future government and, much less, about how U.S. foreign policy will be articulated for the 2025-2029 period.
It is difficult to carry out such an exercise, even to construct alternative scenarios, considering not only the lack of internal consensus on domestic and foreign priorities, but also the unknown variables regarding the preparation, knowledge and objectives of those who will assume the task from key government positions.
It is obvious that in this period, as in any other, the United States will try to maintain its leadership position in international issues, subjugating supposed allies, pressuring third parties, launching military actions and imposing economic sanctions of all kinds against those who have opposing interests. The questions would be, how they expect to do it, whether they have the real capacity to achieve it and whether there is an internal consensus on priorities and agenda.
Campaign speeches contribute little in that sense, as potential candidates progressively present less elaborated statements, where the vision of the world and its problems has been replaced by simple digital impulses, clicks and images, slogans, rather than reasoned contents.
Nevertheless, there is at least the resource of seeking some orientation through the consultation of projections elaborated by experts who have had, or have, certain performance within federal agencies related to foreign policy, who have the capacity to delineate theoretical approaches and who can also be characterized as a kind of apex officials, since they have been at the head of an important executive body, or to their management positions have contributed the thinking of hundreds of subordinates, for many years.
They are people who have also had the responsibility of trying to defend the “American vision” in countless public events, inside and outside the United States, and have been forced to answer questions beyond the “talking points” they had prepared in their agendas for each case.
There is no established methodology for choosing such sources and any result would carry a risk of error, but in any case they are relevant, whether or not one agrees with the rationale they offer. In this exercise, we may be part of the misconception that U.S. foreign policy is based on deep, coherent and consensual reasoning, supported by historical data, that observes clear and inviolable rules. But increasingly, the foreign policy of that country is short-sighted, accidental, chaotic, poorly implemented, declarative rather than executive, responds to very specific economic interests and on many occasions contradicts what has been theoretically considered as the so-called national interest and has been reflected in that category on programmatic documents.
For the analysis we propose, we have chosen reflections by Richard Haass, president for 20 years of the Council on Foreign Relations and government official from the administration of James Carter to George Bush; Robert Gates , Secretary of Defense for both George W. Bush and the first years of Barack Obama; plus Jake Sullivan , former chief of office of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and national security advisor to Joe Biden as president.
The first two have alternated their roles under the mantle of Democrats and Republicans. The experience of the third is not balanced in that regard with a fourth figure, but he brings a twelve-year view from recent executive positions, a period in which there is no similar source among the Republican hosts, much less someone with intellectual thought of some elaboration. It would just be a distraction to resort to what has been written or said by someone like John Bolton.
Although from Cuba, as from the rest of the world, the argumentation of his reasoning differs, it is interesting to review the points of coincidence between their assessments regarding the main challenges for the United States in its relations with the world and how to face them in the immediate future.
Paradoxically, all three agree that perhaps the greatest constraint, the main “enemy” at present, is not external, but is to be found within the United States.
Haass put it most dramatically, breaking with the main theme of focus in his long career in public service and writing a book on domestic politics, The Bill of Obligations, which explains that “the main danger to the country, however, comes not from without but from within, from none other than ourselves. The question is whether Americans are prepared to do what is required to save democracy,” the latter term being understood as the set of rules of the political game to which the majority has no access.
Haass believes that beyond the debate about the rights of each individual, a conscience must be formed about the obligations of each citizen and defines the ten that he considers the main ones: be informed, get involved, be willing to reach agreements, have a civilized behavior, reject violence, give value to the rules, promote the common good, respect government service, support the teaching of civic values, put the country first. In other words, a counter-reading of all the behaviors represented in Trumpism.
Such is the crisis of values within the United States that Haass argues that “our domestic political situation is not just one that others don’t want to bear resemblance to (…) it has introduced a degree of unpredictability and unreliability that is really poisonous (…) it makes it very difficult for our friends to depend on us.”
For Haass, what differentiates the current situation from any previous one is that in none of them “there were threats to the system, its fabric”, as there would be now.
Gates, on the other hand, with a more general staff vision and distant from the contradictions that manifest themselves in the country’s social base, describes this risk by saying that “at the very moment when events demand a strong and coherent response from the United States, the country cannot give one. Its fractured leadership – Republicans and Democrats, in the White House and Congress – has failed” including “articulating a longer-term strategy” and explaining “to all Americans” the external risks. He went on to state that “the United States finds itself in a particularly treacherous position: facing adversaries (…) unable to assemble the unity and strength necessary to deter them (…) the dysfunctionality has made American power erratic and unreliable”.
In the former secretary’s view, the country’s legislators have also failed to approve the country’s budget, in particular the modalities for military spending and for not setting limits on social spending. In other words, he would be for even greater imbalances.
Making clear his concerns for 2024, Gates wrote that “former President Donald Trump’s disdain for U.S. allies (…) his willingness to question America’s commitment to its NATO allies, and his generally erratic behavior, undermined credibility and respect for the U.S. around the world.” On several occasions the former official links other Trump missteps.
Sullivan is also concerned about domestic problems that would be undermining the U.S. ability to act abroad and although he does not explain them with full transparency, he points out that “international power depends on a strong domestic economy, measured not only by its size or efficiency, but also by the degree to which it is responsive to all Americans.” Later he adds, “there should be no doubt that Washington needs to break down the barrier between domestic and foreign policy and that greater public investments are an essential component of foreign policy.”
These are three different ways of saying that the U.S. domestic political map is highly segmented and polarized, that the political class is increasingly distant from the social base, that public opinion could not support any costly, long-term military incursion abroad, much less understand approving large expenditures to support “allies,” as has been done in recent situations with Ukraine and Israel .
All three authors agree that foreign policy is defined in an entirely new context in the international arena and, with their differences, refer to the Great Powers confrontation, which is reflected in the most up-to-date US doctrine on national security. It is a matter of, firstly, trying to contain the thrust of the People’s Republic of China on all fronts and of Russia, secondly, basically on the military level. India is mentioned as a balancing factor that would be playing in favor of U.S. interests. Europe is a kind of safe rearguard and the so-called Global South is that area of the world that needs to be taken care of only to weaken Chinese and Russian advances, not because it is significant within the international community. Asia and Africa are mentioned a few times, Latin America and the Caribbean none.
In the confrontation with these other great powers, everything that is done to prevent China from exercising sovereignty over Taiwan and to avoid a Russian victory in its military operation in Ukrainian territory would be of the utmost value to the United States. In the former, the views range from Gates’ position of preventing “Chinese misinterpretations” through the use of military force, to Sullivan’s understanding that China and the United States are “highly interdependent” countries, between which economic issues play a first-order role.
It is this second view that would seek to transform what Donald Trump and the free trade practice sectors have termed as economic “de-coupling” from China into something also impractical but somewhat more realistic called “de-risking,” avoiding a close economic relationship in those sectors that may constitute a national security risk.
In relation to what the authors put forward as options for the case of Ukraine, just a few months after their statements the reality on the ground would indicate that Russia does not suffer the effect of the sanctions imposed by the USA and NATO in the way they were designed, that some of them have had a more decisive and negative effect on areas of the European Union, that Ukraine is completely dependent on for the constant sending of resources and means, which cannot be offered in an unlimited way.
In none of the three reflections was stability or peace in the Middle East mentioned as a priority, nor were there any warnings about risks. Rather, it is a former area from which it was necessary to start in a disorderly fashion, in order to devote time and resources to the “new challenges”.
If one starts from the theoretical assumption that it is difficult to accept the theory that the Israeli special services were unaware all along the line of the military preparations made by the Palestinian resistance for the events of October 7, 2023, then only two options remain as to what Tel Aviv may or may not have communicated to Washington in the previous days.
The Netanyahu government may have shared some of its intelligence findings with U.S. federal agencies and even the type of response it planned to give, or there were no alerts, leaving the Biden government with the only option of unequivocally endorsing Israeli genocide.
There would be at least three additional factors to consider in assessing the U.S. accompaniment: the extent to which the corporate propaganda apparatus unreservedly supported the early Israeli actions and the manner in which they took less enthusiastic positions as Palestinian civilian casualties mounted. The second has to do with the manner in which military aid packages to the Israeli military were approved by the White House, without congressional oversight. Third, within US society, there was a mobilization against Israeli actions that may have been far greater than the anti-Russian sentiments generated by the actions in Ukraine.
This critical situation, which is still in full swing and has the potential to escalate, will undoubtedly have to be added to the scenarios to be constructed for possible U.S. foreign action in the period 2025-2029. It seems that the strategists mentioned in this text did not include in their predictions the possible action of insubordinate allies with their own agendas.
In their visions of the future, the three authors also share certain coincidences. Gates states that “in the best of all worlds – one in which the U.S. government has public support, energetic leaders and a coherent strategy – these adversaries (China and Russia) will pose a formidable challenge. But the domestic scene today is far from orderly: the American public is inward-looking; Congress has descended into back-and-forth, and successive presidents have neglected or done a poor job of explaining America’s global role (…) The danger is real.”
For Sullivan, who writes from the logic that Biden’s policies have been correct and that, therefore, he should be reelected, there are still several objectives that have not been achieved. Thus he states: “The United States is now at the beginning of a third era: one in which it is adjusting to a new period of competition in an era of interdependence and transnational challenges (…) The outcome of this phase will not be determined solely by external forces. It will also, to a large extent, be decided by America’s own choices”.
The way Haass referred to the same problem was by saying, “we are not where we need to be and we are not on the trajectory we should be on (…) our ability to play a role in the world and our ability to do so effectively depends on something we take for granted, essentially a functioning democracy. Well, we no longer have that luxury. We can’t take it for granted (…) I never thought I would say something like that.”
If you take into account that the Republican Party in practical terms does not exist, as a political entity with some command level structure, in the way it was known for the last hundred years. If it is known that the Democratic Party for its part has delayed a transition of leadership, due to the inability of certain internal chieftains to make room for younger sectors, which migrate more to the left of the spectrum.
If we add to this the fact that as of January 2024, forty-five members of Congress (7 senators and 38 members of the House) have chosen not to run for reelection; that cases of corruption of active legislators have increased and that both chambers are divided among the parties in almost similar proportions; then we can get an idea of some of the more general problems facing the political class in that country.
Add to this the fact that no plausible explanation has yet been articulated for the fact that the United States had the highest per capita COVID19 casualties among developed and even less developed countries; that homelessness exceeds half a million, with the highest total in the last decade; that more than 100,000 individuals died in the last 12 months from fentanyl overdoses alone (excluding other drugs); that more than 40,000 individuals in 2023 will die from fentanyl overdoses alone; that 40,000 individuals in 2023 will die from fentanyl overdoses alone (excluding other drugs); and that the United States will have the highest per capita number of homelessness deaths in the last 12 months; that 40,000 individuals in 2023 were victims of gun violence and that of the 3.2 million deaths per year at least half are due to preventable diseases; with all this it will be understood that Americans as a constituency have strong reasons to call for attention to be paid inward, rather than outward. Countless statistics are available on imbalances in access to wealth, income levels and savings in banks.
The 2020 presidential election “cost” $14 billion in contributions from large and small donors.
One hundred individuals in that country contributed to these funds with totals ranging from $178 million to $3.2 million. A total of 2,476 political action committees of very specific interests raised $2.7 billion for the same purpose. All of these collectively are the ones placing the bets and picking the winning rider.
For now, the names most often heard are Trump and Biden, but for those who actually decide the options are much more open, commensurate with the diversity of problems facing the country. Behind the curtain, one can hear the ticking of a probable new financial crisis, 2008-style, which could be about to repeat itself. The unforeseen evolution of a regional military conflict, which could take on international proportions, underlies several points of the planet.
Never before in recent U.S. history has the potential for a definitive breakdown of the rules by which the ruling classes have shared power been greater. The clear trend, political formations aside, is toward greater authoritarianism and less inclusiveness.