Moderated by Lyse Doucet of BBC World News, this panel considered how the war on terror could be reconfigured for the future. Sir David Omand started off the panel by pointing out that the present era was the first time that the threat cannot be named and that no agreement existed on the threat. That said, while the threat of terrorism is serious, it is perhaps not the biggest threat facing us; that may be global climate change, the global economy, and global governance challenges also await us.
Moderated by Mr. Stryker McGuire from Newsweek International, this panel examined the key positions of the 2008 U.S. presidential candidates on foreign policy. Ivo Daalder pointed out that the challenge for this upcoming election was about restoring trust in the United States, which has been lost due to circumstance and due to the foreign policy of the Bush Administration. In terms of forward strategy, a Democratic president will need to pay less attention to the war on terror, and focus more on global interconnectedness. That interconnectedness requires an engagement with the world and an understanding that, for the U.S. to be secure, others will have to be secure. The interconnectedness must now be the basis of U.S. strategy. Second, in terms of style, there will have to be multilateral engagement, within the context of institutions, for problem-solving on global challenges. This will involve a new and cooperative style of leadership. Finally, there will be a strategic reassessment: starting a process of removing troops from Iraq and downgrading Iraq as the centre of American foreign policy. Several new issues will get particular attention in the new administration, including climate change, Pakistan-Afghanistan, and nuclear weapons.
The United States and Britain should not be so downhearted about the present strategic malaise in which they both now find themselves. True, it is mainly their own fault and it will be for future historians to allocate blame, or pity, as events in the Middle East, South Asia, or even within NATO, play themselves out. But strategic malaise is a normal condition for powers at the apex of a dominant civilisation; lesser powers and revisionist powers are the ones who have clear strategies.
One of the most daunting tasks awaiting the next president will be setting a new agenda for the war on terror. Seven years after the events of 9/11 – and after two wars and billions of dollars spent on improving homeland security - the war on terror is adrift. While al-Qaeda has been denied a sanctuary in Afghanistan, it is now multiplying as a kind of “franchise terrorism” across the globe. It has also found a significant base in Iraq and has made denying America a victory there the centrepiece of its strategy. Worse still, the Bush Administration’s handling of the war on terror has left serious doubts on both sides of the Atlantic about whether this war is intellectually or morally sustainable. In the eyes of many European observers, the war on terror has driven the U.S. and European Union further apart, rather than providing them with a common agenda for action.
Back in the days of the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, there were a flurry of news stories and columns -- including one by me for Newsweek International -- about how the 2008 presidential campaign was improving America's image abroad. The competitiveness of the race, the diversity of the candidates, and the fact that none of these people were named George W. Bush triggered an unprecedented degree of interest abroad. As I wrote in January: "From an international perspective, the cream is rising to the top. The three candidates who would generate the most excitement outside the United States are Clinton, Obama, and McCain. The probability of two of them securing their parties' nominations is relatively high right now." A few months later, the cream is starting to curdle. The pressures of the campaign trail appear to be triggering statements that will erode America's soft power.