What if Americans elect a Republican as president in 2012?
İSA AFACANIn less than 10 months, we will know whether President Barack Obama will keep his job or lose it to a Republican candidate. President Obama has been lauded for his success on the foreign policy front – like the killing of Osama bin Laden, decimating many al-Qaeda senior operatives, and ending the ill-conceived nine-year-old Iraqi War – but he has a formidable challenge on the home front: the economy.
An unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent, gigantic bank bailouts and failing iconic American corporations like Lehman Brothers, GM and AIG, have epitomized the Obama administration. Importantly, many pundits emphasized the insurmountable task of dealing with the unemployment problem for a sitting president given the latest report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which indicated a rate of 8.5 percent last month. It is important to note that no incumbent president has successfully been re-elected for a second term with a 7.2 percent unemployment rate since the end of World War II.
Many Republican pundits like Karl Rove, venerated architect of the George W. Bush administration, see Obama doomed to a one-term presidency. They think that they have the best chance of defeating Obama in November. Among the Republican candidates to challenge Obama, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich appear to be leading in the Republican primaries.
Given the unparalleled good relations between the U.S. and Turkey under the Obama administration, especially after the Arab Spring, the big question for Turkey is this: Where does the future of the relationship between Ankara and Washington go if one of the Republican candidates, Romney, Gingrich or Santorum, is elected as president in November? Early signs from these candidates indicate that Turkish-U.S. relations would be severely strained. Any emergent crisis zones surrounding Turkey like Iran, Syria and Iraq are also zones of economic engagement for Turkey. An assertive U.S. president against Iran in the near future, for example, would immensely harm Turkish economic interests there. For example, Gingrich’s recently argued that Palestinians are an “invented people” who want to destroy Israel. His overtly pro-Israel position and hard-line stance against Iran would probably harm U.S. relations with Turkey. Santorum has echoed similar sentiments.
The Obama administration, for the first time, was able to detach its foreign policy orientation from the triangulation of Turkish, Israeli and U.S. relations in the Middle East, and differentiate its policies between Israel and Turkey given the downward spiral and quarreling between the two. However, it is highly doubtful that Gingrich and Santorum would do such policy maneuvering.
On the other hand, frontrunner Mitt Romney, who has already won the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary and is poised to win South Carolina, was perceived as “liberal” in his tenure as governor. To disassociate himself with this tag and assert himself as a “true conservative,” he hired veterans of the Bush administration like Michael Chertoff, Eric Edelman, Robert Kagan and Eliot Cohen as his foreign policy and national security advisers. Many of the advisers he tapped so far are neoconservatives who favor unilateralist policies. Oscillating to the far right in foreign policy to prove his true conservative credentials, Romney, if elected, could roll back U.S. foreign relations to those of the Bush era.
Even though Turkey has enjoyed extraordinarily good relations with the U.S., there is a real possibility that the relationship could be hampered given that one of the Republican candidates could replace Obama as the president in November. Therefore, Turkish foreign policy-makers should realize that a Republican White House could be radically different for Turkish interests than what we currently have.
İsa Afacan is an assistant professor of international relations at Zirve University in Gaziantep.