Foreign Policy

Ukraine – The War within American Foreign Policy

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Joe Biden arrived in Washington promising a plethora of conflicting foreign policy goals. Much was made of a new “foreign policy for the middle class”, which appeared to be a rejection of the old liberal hegemonic model of his predecessors Bush and Obama. Yet Biden also claimed “America is back” to being an international leader throughout the world.  Climate change also was supposedly a driver, as well as the old Obama Administration “pivot toward Asia”.   These priorities have now been eclipsed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Administration’s stated goal of weakening Russia. If Ukraine and Europe remain the top priority, this new priority will prevent any real progress on any other foreign policy goals.

The administration’s focus on defeating Russia in Ukraine conflicts with the rest of the world’s more pressing priority of ending the war as soon as possible.  For developing nations, the war is causing a hunger crisis that threatens their people’s lives and national stability. Russia and Ukraine supply 28% of the world’s wheat exports, 29% of barley and 15% of maize.  They are also leading exporters of potash and fertilizer, which allows other nations to grow their own food. Ukraine itself provides the calories necessary to feed 400 million people (see the recent leader in The Economist magazine “The Coming Food Catastrophe”). In response, India and other nations are embargoing the export of domestically grown wheat and other foodstuffs in a move reminiscent of protectionist measures taken during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moreover, the call to uphold the international rule of order rings hollow with nations that experienced invasion and conquest by western nations in the past.  Whether it is China, India or other countries, they remember their colonial past and do not believe that they should sacrifice trade and other relations with Russia for a far-away conflict.  As I mentioned in this previous post, their past has made them the ultimate realists dedicated to preserving and building their own sovereignty against more direct threats. 

President Biden’s Russia-Ukraine myopia also weakens the effort to respond to more direct challenges. Japan, India, Indonesia and Southeast Asia nations are more concerned about the threat from China than Russia. They are undoubtedly wondering if the vaunted pivot to Asia has now turned 180 degrees towards Europe.  Latin America also needs our attention and is equally unconcerned about Ukraine. Indeed, Russia has threatened another Cuban missile crisis by proposing to station military assets with fellow anti-American authoritarian regimes in Cuba and Venezuela.  A policy centered on Ukraine may thus result in a direct strategic threat to the American homeland.

Washington’s obsession about Ukraine thus endangers its ability to achieve other critical foreign policy objectives. It makes it more difficult to recruit developing countries to fight climate change and protect America from real national security threats. Something will have to give. At this point, the climate change agenda is most at risk.  The only other way to accomplish all of these objectives is to paper them over with billions of American budgetary dollars.  Russia’s invasion highlights the need for increased domestic commitment on the American home front, but a spending spree of that scale currently lacks any real American public support and could endanger our own economic goals. If the Administration wants to take that road, it must prepare the American people to make significant sacrifices in taxes, spending and domestic policy.  The choices this may entail will be the subject of the next article in this series.  


History Channel TR Documentary

The History Channel will air a four-part documentary on the life of Theodore Roosevelt tomorrow (Monday) and Tuesday at 8:00 pm EDT. It looks like it will a comprehensive and appropriately dramatic portrayal of TR’s life and would be a great way to spend the Memorial Day holiday. Watch it and let me know what you think.

Domestic Policy

Rights come with Responsibilities

The string of horrifying mass shootings in Uvalde Texas, and elsewhere shines a uncomfortable light on our domestic policy failures in America.   Propagandists of the left and right will blame the availability of guns, inadequate school security, social media or other convenient bogeymen.. They all will be right, but for the wrong reasons. Their shallow  debate ignores even more intractable socioeconomic causes.

Theodore Roosevelt was a gun enthusiast and avid hunter. However, he also believed that every right comes with corresponding responsibilities . People should learn how shoot to build a disciplined character.  Those without such character should not be allowed to own firearms. To the extent we can identify those individuals before they acquire a gun, I believe TR would have favored it and other controls to insure guns were used responsibly. Thus, background checks probably would not have bothered him as well as other limits on ownership.

However, there was more going on here than the use of a gun for an evil purpose.  The school shooter in Uvalde had suffered from bullying at school due to a speech impediment as well as other apparent nonconformities (see article). He also apparently came from a difficult family life. Many mass shooters come from equally traumatic backgrounds, as this article points out. Thus, when we talk about school safety, it is past time to also talk about protecting vulnerable adolescents in large impersonal school environments. . It is also past time to ensure that they have access to the mental health resources and family support they need.

The COVID pandemic has strained the fabric of our families and the entire nation. Heinous acts like shootings are the results of a downward cycle of despair and anger.  If we truly wish to reduce their incidence and preserve our basic rights, it will require meeting our responsibilities by accepting limitations on our own freedom and the expenditure of money and social policies necessary to combat the underlying causes of such despair and anger.