Politics and International Relations (PIR)
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The Pushmi-pullyu

The Pushmi-pullyu : Structural Pressures and Strategic Change under a New American President
(Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester)
Date and Time
21st Nov 2008 13:00 14:30

This talk will discuss the predicament of the newly elected US president, who leads a nation trapped between structural and political imperatives for strategic change in foreign policy, and simultaneous forces rendering such change extremely difficult to realise. Pressures driving for change include: the failure of the ‘freedom agenda’ to produce tangible results; Iraq’s demonstration of the limits of American military and political power; the global collapse in American popularity and perceived legitimacy; the structural weakness of US government finances; a secular decline in the United States’ relative power in the international system; and a decline in domestic political support for foreign interventionism. Pressures constraining policy change include: American economic dependence on the maintenance of the present order; the systemic demands placed upon the US as the most powerful nation in the international system; the potential for hostile states and non-state actors to seize on a change in US strategy as a show of weakness; and the historically established ideological tendency towards liberal universalism in US political culture. What emerges from this tension may be a functional synthesis based upon competing pressures, or a dysfunctional policy that struggles and fails to reconcile the incompatible demands of desire and reality. To some extent the difference between these outcomes may be in the eye of the beholder.