The foreign policy debate has been dominated by the reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its effect on our relations with the rest of the world. As I mentioned here, TR’s heart, soul and perhaps body would have been with the Ukrainians as they defend their independence against Vladimir Putin’s brutal attack. However, a realist foreign policy would recognize that the US and the world have other important interests as well (see this previous post). It is not appeasement to keep the door open to the potential for negotiations for a peaceful end to the war, if simply because this is how almost all wars end. Meanwhile, the challenge of China and Central American stability potentially impact the American future as much, if not more, than the outcome of the war in Ukraine.
The most important foreign policy issue, though, arises here at home. TR was a strong proponent of presidential power, but the abuse of the war power by recent presidents has led us into forever wars far afield from our core interests. Our continued involvement in Iraq is a classic example. The House has considered a resolution to finally repeal the Bush Administration’s 2003 Authorization for use of Military Force under the War Powers Resolution. The only record vote occurred in the House of Representatives and can be found here
The resolution needs to be strengthened to prevent further abuses (see here), but cleaning up the past excesses is at least a start.
Not much further from home lies the instability in Central America, which has fueled the immigration crisis. Congress passed a bill to address one aspect of the crisis through strengthening the fight against corruption in Nicaragua, which the former Sandinista guerrilla leader Daniel Ortega has turned into a family dictatorship. Those votes can be found at
S 1064 – Reinforcing monitoring of corruption & Human rights in Nicaragua
The oppression of China’s Uighur minority is just one example of Chinese President Xi Jin-Peng’s increasingly dictatorial rule. Indeed, it is not only a symbol of the brutality of the regime, but also its cynical mercantilist economic policy to monopolize the solar power and clean energy industries (see my previous post on the subject here). HR 6256 imposes importation limits on goods produced using forced labor in China, especially in the Xinjiang Uighur Region, and imposes sanctions related to such forced labor. It was passed by a unanimous voice vote in both the Senate and the House and has been signed by the President. It is one of the few examples of when politics did stop at the water’s edge, enabling Congress to act across party lines to defend both human rights and our own economic strength.
Coming within sight of the city, He wept over it and said “If only you had known the path to peace this day, but you have completely lost it from view”.
This iconic photo of modern-day Jerusalem was taken during my pilgrimage to the Holy Land at the spot where Christians believe Jesus Christ wept over the city’s coming destruction by the Romans. The golden dome is the Dome of the Rock, where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven. What is less obvious is that it is built on the Temple Mount, which is where the Jewish temple used to stand before the city’s destruction. Behind the Dome of the Rock is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Christians believe Christ died and rose from the dead. The wall immediately in front of the Golden Dome was built by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent on top of the remnants of the walls of the former Byzantine, Roman and Jewish rulers of the city.
The photo illustrates the sad history and current reality of Israel, Palestine and the entire Middle East. Whether it was the Persians, the Romans, the Turks or others in between, the region has been the crossroads of the world and the battleground of political and religious empires for millennia. Each outsider won a temporary victory only to be displaced by later, more powerful newcomers. Like the layers of Jerusalem’s wall, the rivalries and resentments from these conquests run deep and are part of the everyday life of the people.
Recent history shows that progress in untying this Gordian knot of conflict only occurs when one of the leaders in the area courageously and publicly acts. The Camp David Accords hosted by President Jimmy Carter that produced the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty were possible only after President Anwar Sadat’s courageous trip to Tel Aviv to meet Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. This peace has now held for over four decades. In contrast, The Oslo Accords of 1993 that created the Palestinian Authority were initially negotiated in secret between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization rather than through a similar public initiative. While the agreement resulted in the creation of the Palestinian Authority, the corresponding lack of commitment on both sides has been reflected in Israel’s settlement policy and the continuing attacks on Israel by Hamas and others terrorist groups.
When weighed along with the disastrous effects of our military interventions in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, the lessons become clear. The US cannot bring a peace to the Middle East unless the parties are first willing to take the risks of peace themselves Worse, direct military intervention simply adds a new layer on to the ancient piles of resentment and conflict. This land deserves our prayers for peace, but realism and a certain amount of humility must necessarily temper America’s involvement in the region.
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.