Will we look for a President in 2020 with foreign policy roots close to the post WWII approach, will we stay with Trump’s approach of isolationism and of undoing all the post war organizations and alliances, or will we look for a totally new approach to foreign policy?
Yesterday, Tuesday, 2.19.19, when Mike Pence, the American VP said he was speaking in Munich on behalf of Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America, he waited for applause from the gathered world leaders. There was only silence.
Yesterday, Tuesday, 2.19.19, Joe Biden was interviewed live at the same Munich meeting. He is something that Trump is not. He’s nice; not soft-nice, but calm and nonconfrontational, unless confrontation is called for. What would happen if a President Biden was introduced at a Munich meeting? First of all, he would most likely be present at the meeting. Would there be applause? There was plenty of applause. Perhaps we should apply this test to each of the many candidates for President running as Democrats. What will their foreign policy be? How will they be received by our allies and our closely-held enemies?
When it comes to Joe Biden, I believe that we would find him continuing the post-World War II alliances and working with Europe to ensure peace; at least peace in Europe. We have some alliances with Asia because Japan pulled many Asian nations into World War II, and also due to similar outcomes to the undeclared Korean War. We have few alliances with any Middle Eastern nations beyond Northern African nations where World War II was also fought. Churchill was fairly obsessive about finding ways to get Turkey to join with the allies, although he never succeeded. Turkey, with its swings towards totalitarianism, always waffled between Russia and Europe, probably a result of geography.
After World War II Europe became ground zero for a tug of war between Russia and America, between capitalism/democracy and communism. For the past 70 years it seemed that America and the other world proponents of capitalism and democracy were winning nations over to these ideologies. We did not have a new war, but neither did we have peace. We ended up in a ‘Cold War’, that apparently did not end when the Iron Curtain parted.
The USSR died a mostly economic death and split back into the satellite nations it had sucked up after World War II. These newly released nations had been split along unnatural geographic lines that divided the cultural groups which had learned to live peacefully within old national boundaries. Once released from Russian domination old hostilities that had festered since WW II, and while behind the Iron Curtain, reared their ugly heads and we had things like what happened with Croatia and Bosnia.
As early as 1945 Churchill warned us that after WWII our temporary and very valuable ally, Russia, had turned its back on Western Europe already, taking most of Central and Eastern Europe with it. America and Russia conducted opposing campaigns to win new recruits to either communism or democracy. While the US offered economic prosperity and military security, Russia offered weapons and oil. For a while it seemed we were winning but now, not so much.
Our own President seems to back authoritarian states in Europe (while he tries to topple them in South America), and he smiles on Putin in Russia and makes us very nervous. There is also a huge backlash against capitalism in America on the left which complicates the outcome of the democratic/communist war for ascendancy even more. It looks like the future of the world may be authoritarian. Some leaders seem to want to bring back the monarchy. Others back a very loosely defined socialism.
There are many factors which have contributed to this decline in democracy and capitalism. With the more aggressive ideology of a newly empowered Putin who wishes to create a new Russia that looks a lot like the old USSR, with the arrival of the Great Recession which hit Europe rather hard, with the angers of people from austerity economies, the disruptions of terrorism, the waves of immigration as people escape cruel war in Syria, and the military moves by Russia in Georgia and the Ukraine, ‘strong men’ have begun to look attractive as chaos seems imminent. Authoritarianism, as we have seen, is on the rise. Will these new authoritarian states align with Russia or with the United States? Given that even president Trump seems to be more interested in aligning with Russia than any past President, the order imposed on the world after WWII, which never took into account the rise of the USSR, could easily dissolve.
Many have been critical of America’s aggressive moves to turn Europe towards capitalism and democracy. They have felt that our control in Europe has been antithetical to the values of a democracy and that we have often had selfish goals, as opposed to more altruistic ones. In fact, some even express horror and grief at mismoves we have made in our supposed diplomacy, although perhaps our worst moves have not occurred in Europe. Perhaps we did go off the rails a bit, but wanting a future that is democratic, is this still a goal people have?
What will happen in the world if we back off the agreements reached at the end of WWII? Is the UN obsolete? Is it weak and ineffective or secretly plotting a new world order? Which thing is true? Are we done with NATO? Should we loosen the bonds made after Hitler almost turned Europe into a White Supremacist dictatorship? What will happen to the 70 years of “relative” peace our leaders forged after WW II? Were these protections essentially training wheels and the world is now ready to take them off? With “illiberal democracies” multiplying like flies this hardly seems like the moment to pull US bases out of Europe and make nice with Putin in Russia.
Will we look for a President in 2020 with foreign policy roots close to the post WWII approach, will we stay with Trump’s approach of isolationism and of undoing all the post war organizations and alliances, or will we look for a totally new approach to foreign policy? If so, what will it be? I want to hear each of the Democratic candidates on this topic. Should one person be able to set America’s foreign policy? We used to have a strong Department of State and a Congress that weighed in (sometimes too much so). How will foreign policy be handled in the future? Will we elect a person who will be applauded in Munich?
Extra Reading for the Interested
Never having given much thought to what goes on after a war, reading Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts, offered some detailed insights. Winston Churchill was an adult during the two “world” wars in Europe, both of which centered in Germany. He was unhappy with the way the nations who won World War I dealt with the nations who lost the war. He wanted to be sure to do better after that second World War.
Here are some of the things Roberts tells us (pg. 894-95):
“[Churchill] was already also denouncing the tyrannical behaviour of the Communist government of Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Bulgaria, the night-time ‘knock at the door’ from the secret police of these countries prior to the disappearance of citizens.”
“Churchill’s speech at Fulton was officially entitled “The Sinews of Peace” but was quickly called ‘The Iron Curtain Speech’, Andrew Roberts tells us.
“The United States stands at this time at the pinnacle of world power’, [Churchill] began…It is a solemn moment for the American Democracy. For with primacy in power is also joined an awe-inspiring accountability to the future. If you look around you, you must feel not only the sense of duty done but also you must feel anxiety lest you fall below the level of achievement.”
“Of the United Nations, [Churchill] said, ‘We must make sure that its work is fruitful, that it is a reality and not a sham, that it is a force for action, and not merely a frothing of words, that it is a true temple of peace in which the shields of many nations can someday be hung up, and not merely a cock-pit in a Tower of Babel”….
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, he declared ‘an iron curtain’ has descended across the continent. Behind that line all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe: Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all those famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow”….
“The dangers would not be removed by appeasing Russia, [Churchill] argued. “From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.’ He urged that therefore ‘the old doctrine of a balance of power is unsound.”
America did not react well to this speech. Russia had lost so many to the war. It was obvious they needed to be rewarded, but Churchill also proved to be correct. Russia could not be appeased. We now must have good foreign policies for a chaotic Middle East, although we certainly had a big hand in making the chaos. But still we have to worry about Russia each time we take a step. And now we also must worry about China. If we don’t want an authoritarian future how must we proceed?
Photo Credits: From a Google Image Search – CBS, Academy