Foreign Policy

Slouching Towards War

Leeds, England – April 20 2018: – An old blue French postage stamp of World War One soldiers in trenches in the Battle of Verdun
Source: Adobe Stock

The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.

Theodore Roosevelt

In her classic history of the causes of World War I “The Guns of August”, the great historian Barbara Tuchman chronicled how rigid alliances and overweening national pride sparked one of the deadliest European wars.  The Biden Administration’s approach to the Ukraine crisis risks making the same mistakes. If a Russian invasion occurs, it will happen partially because of Biden’s confusing rhetoric which fails to heed the lessons of history. 

The similarities to the drivers of World War I are eerie.  Like today, that conflict began in an Eastern European state that was not formally aligned with any of the major European powers. In the case of World War I, the conflict was sparked by the assassination of a prince of the Austro-Hungarian empire by a Serbian nationalist in Serbia.  Austria-Hungary openly talked about annexing Serbia into its empire. When Austria mobilized to invade Serbia in retaliation, Russia backed the Serbs out of pan-Slavic loyalty. This drew Austria’s ally Germany into the conflict and Russia’s ally France in response.  Britain tried to distance itself, but joined the war when Germany invaded Belgium, also a nonaligned nation. In the end, two great European alliances sleepwalked into a bloody conflict not because of any direct threat to their national security, but due to ethnic and national pride and outdated alliances.

Today, the Biden Administration is hyping a threat to a country unaligned with us and thus risking a wider conflict. Their stated reasons appeal to the worst instincts of unipolar liberal hegemonism.  Indeed, by constantly talking about the imminence of an invasion, we are goading the Russians to do it by poking at the inferiority complex they have had for centuries.

A foreign policy realist would see Ukraine as an opportunity, not a crisis. We start with the basic premise that we make our foreign policy, not Putin or any other nation. Our short-term goal should be to declare that while the US supports Ukrainian sovereignty, it is not in our national interest to defend it and so Ukraine is not a candidate for NATO membership.  The President’s disclaimer of intent to station missiles in Ukraine was helpful, but then contradicted by rhetoric threatening to impose “long-term consequences that will undermine Russia’s ability to compete economically and strategically”. See the President’s statement of February 15, 2022 here. Instead, any talk of economic and other sanctions should be measured and leave room for tougher action in future conflicts. Otherwise, we risk the mistake of driving Russia to consider a wider conflict against the Baltic states and other NATO members.

Moreover, we should not be dictating Ukraine’s foreign policy any more than Russia should. This means we should not be negotiating with Russia about Ukraine’s future if simply because it implies acceptance of a permanent Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe   In a G0 world of increasing equality of power, it should be our long-term policy to oppose this kind of domination. Biden betrays his stated commitment to “the right of countless countries to choose their own destiny, and the right of people to determine their own futures”, when he negotiates with Russia about Ukraine’s future and threatens Germany with a promise to stop the Nord Stream pipeline. A better response would be to use this opportunity to discuss a restructuring of NATO to tailor it to current and future European geopolitical realities; in particular, Europe’s economic strength and thus capability to defend itself from Russian aggression.

Theodore Roosevelt was not afraid of war, but also was an avid historian. He was also proud that no American soldier had bee killed during his time in office. He would have appreciated the lessons of the guns of August and the importance of tailoring our foreign policy to the particularities of the times (see this previous post).  The United States needs to cool the rhetoric about Ukraine and save our economic and military gunpowder for more serious threats to our national security in our own hemisphere and elsewhere.

China, Foreign Policy, New Nationalism News, Realist Theory

New Nationalism News

April 17, 2021

Afghanistan Withdrawal

President Biden’s announcement of our withdrawal from Afghanistan by September is correct for the simple reason that we achieved our objective of defeating Al Qaeda and killing Osama Bin Laden, as I previously argued. Even if the Taliban regain power, we can control any threat through immigration, trade and other sanctions. 

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/14/us/politics/biden-afghanistan-troop-withdrawal.html

War with China & Russia?

Meanwhile, this article raises the possibility that China and Russia would coordinate attacks on Taiwan and Ukraine.  However, it also argues against American military intervention in either war.

USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group in South China Sea

We still need to show that the US will defend our interests and allies in Asia. Thus, the USS Theodore Roosevelt is currently executing a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea to challenge China’s militarization of this shipping lane in clear violation of international law.   

https://www.cpf.navy.mil/news.aspx/130841

The Myth of a Rules-Based Order

When I was in China, the Shanghai Admiralty Court trumpeted the fact that China had signed the International Law of the Sea Treaty in contrast to the US.  Chinese militarization of the South China Sea in clear violation of the treaty shows, as this article says, we live in a world of great power rivalry and not the globalist dream of a rules-based order.   

https://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2021/04/12/the_myth_of_a_rules-based_world_772304.html

2020 Election, Foreign Policy, Politics, Realist Theory

An American Nationalist Voting Index – Speaking Softly

This is part of a series examining the issues in the presidential election. To see other articles in the series, click on the “2020 Elections” link on the Home page

Score

Biden -2.5 Trump +1.5

While Theodore Roosevelt often engaged in bellicose rhetoric, his foreign policy while president relied more on negotiation and adroit diplomacy to advance American interests. For example, Roosevelt relied on his diplomatic connections more than military power in avoiding an intervention by Germany in Venezuela to collect overdue debt. TR knew U.S. foreign policy needed to change to adapt to new challenges. In his time, it had to adapt by becoming more active in the world.    

As I mentioned in my posts on the History and Future of Nationalism, the world has changed again. The pursuit of liberal hegemony since the end of the Cold War has been proven to be unsustainable. Meanwhile, the rise of China, Russia, India and other regional powers ushered in a dynamic multi-polar system.  Trump‘s election in 2016 was a repudiation of the liberal model. Much of the change since then has been simply talk, but talk in foreign policy can also be substantive.  Nevertheless, foreign policy remains one of the sharpest contrasts between the two candidates.

Realist Foreign Policy

As I have argued previously, the new National Security Strategy promulgated by Trump in 2018 is one of the most important and least understood changes in modern American foreign policy. It rejects the globalist liberal crusade to spread Western values throughout the world and expressly adopts the realist strategy, which holds that international relations is a contest among nations, especially great powers, and that America’s only foreign policy goal should be to preserve its own national security and way of life. The text has its flaws, but it remains a watershed moment in recent history. Trump deserves a +1 for this achievement. 

In contrast, Biden supported the liberal globalist model in the Senate and as part of the Obama Administration.  There are encouraging signs that some of his current advisors recognize the failures of this strategy as discussed in this article from the DefenseOne website.   However, both Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris still focus on human rights rather than the real economic and geopolitical dangers we face. Thus, a Biden-Harris Administration would most likely return to the liberal model and so deserves a -1 rating. 

NATO Expansion

The American commitment to NATO is based on the post-World War II socioeconomic weakness of Europe in the face of looming Soviet Communist expansionism.  It is past time to reduce our commitment since Europe now has the capability to defend itself against Russian aggression.  President Trump has talked about this, but his substantive policy has been quite the opposite.  Much handwringing occurred when the administration announced the withdrawal of 9,000 troops from Germany. However, instead of coming home, they are destined for redeployment in Poland.  Moreover, we agreed to admit North Macedonia, a tiny remnant of the old Yugoslavia, to NATO, and thus to defend it even though it has no relationship to any real threat to the US.  Trump thus has failed to accomplish anything of substance in this area and deserves a zero.

However, Biden’s stated policy is worse. As the DefenseOne article mentions, he supports releasing Europe from the goal to  increase their defense expenditures to 2% of GDP in exchange for “cooperation” on China and Middle Eastern issues.  This ignores the fact that Europeans have very different views on those issues.  This would allow them to piggyback on our defense support while giving up little in return. It thus earns Biden another -1. 

Withdrawal from the Middle East

Perhaps nowhere has liberal hegemony failed so disastrously as in the Middle East. Rather than attempting to solve its centuries-old intractable problems, we should be supporting the development of an internal balance of power and become simply an offshore balancer (see this previous post). Unfortunately, neither candidate fully embraces this approach. Trump abandoned the JCPOA with Iran that controlled its nuclear development and instead threatened military action.  He has reduced, but not eliminated, the number of combat troops in Syria and Afghanistan.  On the positive side, the administration engineered the recognition of Israel by the UAE and encouraged its tacit alliance with Saudi Arabia. This lays the groundwork for a balance of power in the region between an Arab-Israeli coalition vs. Iran.  However, the lack of strategic coordination between all these policies earns Trump only a zero on this subject. 

Meanwhile, Biden supports trying to renew the JCPOA, but calls Saudi Arabia a “pariah state”.   While supporting military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Middle East in principle, he then conditions it on effective control of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.  Immigration and economic sanctions would be as effective in preventing them from attacking the US.   Biden’s approach does nothing to achieve a realist solution in the region and thus earns him a zero as well. 

China

China presents a multifaceted geopolitical, trade and domestic challenge to America.  President Xi Jin-Peng’s increasingly totalitarian rule and bid for world power came as a shock to globalist elites. It should not have surprised anyone with any knowledge of Chinese history and culture. President Trump rightly alerted the world to the danger and has successfully controlled some of their influence, notably through his campaign against Huawei. However, he has failed to build the global consensus necessary to effectively contain the threat. He rates a +.5 for his efforts.

In contrast, Biden has minimized the threat and was part of an administration that naïvely coddled China and allowed the US to become dangerously dependent on it.  The DefenseOne article suggests that his advisors now realize these errors and accept the need to respond.  However, given the former Vice-President’s past attitudes, he must be assigned a -.5 on this issue. 

Conclusion

There is no question that there are fundamental differences between the philosophies of the two presidential candidates on foreign policy.  Biden has been part of the globalist establishment for years while Trump has challenged it, though often by word rather than deed.  A future strategy must be based on the realism and restraint – speaking softly, not primarily by force – to be both sustainable and successful in the 21st century world.