19 Mar A Tipping Point
“Decades of poorly-executed American foreign policy, excessive money-printing, and partisan infighting have taken America – and the world – to a tipping point.” – The Lonely Realist
Walter Russell Mead last week penned an editorial in the Wall Street Journal (“Crisis for Biden’s Chaotic Foreign Policy”) that concluded that the Biden Administration’s policies, specifically with respect to Russia and China, have failed. Russia and China, he believes, have displaced American leadership and will continue to be successful in undermining American initiatives. TLR disagrees. Although the Administration’s poorly-executed Afghanistan withdrawal was a disaster, its global environmental objectives have found limited support, and its approach to energy self-sufficiency at best can be termed inconsistent, the Biden Administration’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been close-to-perfect …, and it is that policy that will determine whether Russia/China or America will prevail in the early 21st Century’s great power struggle. Resolution of America’s internal disputes and the Biden’s Administration’s ability to consistently address foreign policy challenges will be determinative of global leadership and geopolitical stability. The Administration has taken the appropriate steps to return America to its position of Western leadership and used cogent policy-making and deft execution to stop Russia – and, collaterally, China – in its 2022 empire-building tracks. As TLR has repeatedly observed – incessantly in the view of some readers –, the reason why America’s foreign policy has failed is because of two decades of disjointed policy-making by Republican and Democratic Administrations driven largely by a preoccupation with partisan, populist domestic conflicts. The international perception that America is an unreliable ally led to Vladimir Putin’s justifiable belief that he could easily and without organized opposition overrun Ukraine – as he had previously run-over Georgia, Crimea and Donbas. He had been virtually unopposed in successfully bulldozing Western interests in Syria and Libya, supporting anti-American initiatives in Iran and Turkey, assassinating perceived enemies living in Western nations (e.g., the polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko), and repeatedly testing NATO defenses, all without significant reprisal. The perception of American weakness similarly led China to build military bases in the East and South China Seas, maintain aggressive positions in economics and trade, take-over Hong Kong, escalate threats against Taiwan, engage in border-war with India, and embolden North Korea to flex its nuclear and missile muscles. None of these aggressions, treaty violations, or crimes was met with a level of response that threatened the power or ongoing aggressive agendas of either country. America no longer was seen as leading a united West or as the faithful defender of freedom and democracy. The consensus was that America was a nation in decline, weak, disorganized and ineffective. Decades of political gridlock coupled with domestic infighting and inconsistent foreign policy engagement had shorn America of both its will and its mantle.
The first step in America’s uphill climb to reclaim that leadership mantle has now begun with the Biden Administration’s Ukrainian policies. More steps are required. Consistent policy objectives and their effective execution are a necessity if America is to regain credibility and thwart the anti-American, anti-democratic empire-building of autocratic Russia and China … no matter which Political Party holds office. According to former National Security Advisor John Bolton, America’s leaders for too long have been played by Russia: “The Leninist phrase is ‘useful idiot,’ and they haven’t forgotten that in Moscow.” As Bill Maher has noted, “You’re not going to win the battle for the 21st Century if you are a ‘silly people.’ And Americans are a silly people. That’s the classic phrase from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ — when Lawrence tells his Bedouin allies that as long as they stay a bunch of squabbling tribes, they will remain ‘a silly people.’”
It’s time for America’s leaders to stop being “useful idiots” and for Americans to stop acting tribally silly.
Mead believes that the Biden Administration’s policies will not thwart Russia’s ambitions, that Russia will be “undeterred by sanctions,” and that Putin is “capable of handling the domestic political fallout.” TLR disagrees. The sanctions adopted by the Coalition of the West indeed will crush the Russian economy – they are the economic equivalent of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. If Putin allows their fallout to spread, they will isolate and destroy Russia, in the process undermining Putin’s hold on power. Putin now is compelled to reach an accommodation with Ukraine, and to do so relatively soon. Whether he does so or not, the effect of the nuclear sanctions – if paired with consistent American leadership and policy-making – is likely to usher in renewed international faith in freedom and democracy. Its success will more than counterbalance the fleeting achievements of autocracy and centralized management, to the detriment of Russia and China (and other members of the Axis of the Sanctioned*). Mead reaches the correct conclusion: “Geopolitics rule, and if you get power politics wrong, the rest doesn’t matter. [America’s] ability to influence the behavior of others … depends on our geopolitical power.” That is precisely the conclusion that Russia and China reached many years ago …, and that the Biden Administration after decades of American neglect has at last signed onto.
Land war in Europe, a possible Russian debt default (for the first time since 1918), a slowing Chinese economy (plus increasing COVID infections), successive supply chain shocks, commodity shortages, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and rising inflation/stagflation are co-existing destabilizers. Their combination exacerbates local, regional and international imbalances. Only America has sufficient economic, military and geopolitical gravitas to provide global stability. Maintaining that stability requires a united America that leads by example, an essential element of which is a steady hand on foreign policy. The hope is that American firmness and consistency will be sufficient to prevent today’s imbalances from pushing the world over the edge … beyond the tipping point.
An index of TLR titles can be found here.
Finally (from a good friend)
* An in-depth analysis of Western and Axis of the Sanctioned alliances can be found in Ray Dalio’s “The Past Is Prologue: The Changing World Order; How the Sides Are Lining Up.”