Foreign Policy Blogs

Advising the US Credibility Problem

Last week American Abroad Media the American University, and WAMU (the Washington, DC NPR radio affiliate) arranged a match-up between the three US Presidential campaigns’ foreign policy advisors. Up for debate: The United States’ standing in the world. More specifically, how would each advisor's boss raise the US image out of the doldrums if he or she were elected President?

Advising the US Credibility Problem

In Clinton's corner: Lee Feinstein (seated on the left), the campaign's National Security Director. An international lawyer, by trade, Feinstein left his job as a Senior Fellow the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as an advisor to the Kerry Campaign and as the Principal Deputy Director of the Policy Planning Staff under Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during the Clinton administration.

In McCain's corner: John Lehman (in the middle, sandwiched by democrats), the Foreign and Defense Policy Advisor for the campaign. Lehman served as Navy Secretary under Reagan, as a staff member to Henry Kissinger on the National Security Council, and more recently as a member of the 9/11 Commission. Currently Lehman is Chairman of J.F. Lehman & Company, a private equity investment firm. In Obama's corner: Richard Danzig (seated at right), the campaign's Senior Foreign Policy Advisor. Danzig served as Navy Secretary in the Clinton administration. A biological terrorism consultant, Danzig is currently a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Kojo Nnamdi, co-host of the evening's program, started off the discussion by diagnosing the US’ image problem. It's bad, folks. How will the next President turn it around?

Danzig and Feinstein recognized the gravity of the problem and were eloquent in their positivity for ameliorating it (not surprisingly Danzig threw the word “hope” into his response; I think he learned it from his boss).

What was surprising was Lehman's cautious response: “we need to be concerned [about American's image problem] but since World War II we’ve never been terribly popular, [there's been] a lot of envy and hidden admiration, but it's not the role of the leading [global] power to win popularity contests” He said the Iraq war blunders “lost the admiration of fair minded people around the world. We need to win that back. We will never win a beauty contest across the world‚ there are too many people that envy us, dislike what we stand for, so we shouldn't be trying to please everyone, we should be trying to please the people who count.”

I wonder who doesn't “count?”

I guess those Republicans weary of supporting McCain because they feel he is not conservative enough can rest assured that, if elected, he will continue the previous administration's standard “they hate us because of our freedoms” approach to the US credibility problem.

Feinstein stepped in to explain why it's important that the US be “liked:”

“The way you’re viewed today is important because of the kinds of challenges we’re facing right now. We’re more powerful than all other countries but we are fighting two ground wars and a resurgent Al Qaeda our closes friends in Europe who are increasingly alienated from us. It actually really matters that we have a reputation around the world because we cannot address these problems on our own.”

I guess it's not surprising that a Navy Secretary dismiss the importance of soft power. But wait, Danzig was a Navy Secretary too, and he get's it. He gave a practical example of how negative views of the US interfere with our ability to pursue national interests:

“We are engaged in trying to get our NATO allies to provide more support in Afghanistan. That would make our mission more effective and would reduce the demand for American troops. The German government might be sympathetic to that, but the support for America in Germany is about 30%. That has huge practical consequences for the support we can enlist [for the mission]. We find in our ability to deal with terrorism is that the wellspring of this in part is hatred of America. To the degree that we don't encourage positive attitudes toward America we pay real prices.”

The evening continued with insightful analyses and details about each candidates foreign policies. I highly recommend giving this program a listen.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.