After the Cold War, How did administrations impact American foreign policy?  How did the Clinton administration impact American foreign policy? How did the Bush Administration impact American...

After the Cold War, How did administrations impact American foreign policy?  How did the Clinton administration impact American foreign policy? How did the Bush Administration impact American Foreign Policy and what were some of its consequences? How has the Obama Administration impacted American Foreign Policy?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Part of the challenge in answering this question is that American Post- Cold War foreign policy has been distinctly divided into two parts.  There was foreign policy before September 11, 2001 and foreign policy after it.  In my mind, the post- Cold War administrative focus on foreign policy could not be defined in a sharper manner.  Life before and after September 11, 2001 has carved out the contours of American foreign policy.

The Clinton Administration represents foreign policy before September 11. Faced with the reality of no opposing superpower, the Clinton administration mandate of responding to the economy revealed itself as it pared down the military budget. Within the Clinton administration, "the United States mostly scaled back its foreign policy budget as well as its cold war defense budget which amounted to 6.5% of GDP while focusing on domestic economic prosperity."  Foreign policy under the Clinton administration did not feature much in way of long term vision and articulated themes.  There were limited interventions in Somalia, as well as support of United Nations intervention in the former Yugoslavia.  Yet, there was noticeable absence regarding the genocide in Rwanda, as well as a reticence to use military force to prevent public backlash.  Successes in Ireland and hopeful steps towards peace in the Middle East were forged through diplomatic channels, but yet the overall vision and defining element of foreign policy in the Clinton Administration is lacking. The reduction in military expenditures is a reflection of how domestic economics subverted everything else.  The result of this is that revisionist history shows that the Clinton Administration lacked a totalizing vision in terms of the new threats of the new world. Terrorism, something that becomes so important after September 11, 2001, was not a priority in the Clinton foreign policy agenda.  Even with the strikes against Osama Bin Laden, the overall focus of the Clinton Administration's foreign policy is not overarching and failed to effectively account for the threat of terror in a post- Cold War world.

The foreign policy under the Bush Administration was significantly defined by the September 11 Attacks.  The "War on Terror" became the fundamental driving force in foreign policy.  Aspects of this foreign policy became "unilateral action" against any nation or force that was deemed as terrorists or hospitable to terrorists.  From this foreign policy approach, separate military campaigns were initiated in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The Bush Administration also defined its "Axis of Evil" as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.  Given the militaristic interventionist tone of the Bush Administration's foreign policy, significant speculation arose as to what action will be taken in the face of such forces.  The War on Terror approach to foreign policy enabled the Bush Administration to claim threats existed against the United States in different forms.  This served to justify unilateral action and administrative efforts.  If there were no terrorist attacks, the War on Terror was seen to be working. If there were attacks, the War on Terror needed amplifying.  The economic crises of 2007 and 2008 cast the War on Terror in a skeptical light, along with a lack of certainty in terms of metrics for victory in Iraq, as well as instability in Afghanistan.

When President Bush had a shoe thrown at him at a 2008 press conference in Iraq, it was an indication of the worldwide resentment that the Bush foreign policy had engendered.  President Obama took office with a desire to create a foreign policy to change such an impression while keeping the nation safe. While he did not immediately invoke the War on Terror, it has been a significant part of his administration.  Recently, the President articulated a vision of his foreign policy at a West Point Military Academy Commencement speech.  The President argued that his foreign policy consists of "might doing right," suggesting that "modern pragmatism requires both a strong military and the diplomatic tools of alliances and sanctions to exert influence and provide global leadership."  Certainly, this can be seen in how the President's foreign policy has been received. Supporters of his foreign policy point to a drawing down of troops in Afghanistan, removal of troops from Iraq, and the hunting down of Osama Bin Laden as well as an approach that has been much more multilateral and cooperative with nations than his predecessor's foreign policy.  At the same time, the President's foreign policy has received criticism regarding surveillance issues of citizens, the use of drone technology in killing perceived terrorists, and a lack of overall vision.  The remainder of the President's second term will go far in determining which side has a more valid claim to make.  

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