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A Turning Point for American Foreign Policy?

Michael Barone on

Was the passage by the House last Saturday and the Senate on Tuesday of the foreign aid package with money for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan a turning point in American foreign policy?

It certainly was a turnabout in rhetoric and in partisan behavior. House Speaker Mike Johnson led the narrowly Republican House to pass by resounding margins bills to aid Ukraine (311-112), Israel (366-58) and Taiwan (385-34), and to sanction Iran and force the sale of TikTok (360-58). The narrowly Democratic Senate passed the whole kit and caboodle by a similarly lopsided margin (79-18).

These results are broadly in sync with public opinion. Republican members who voted against aiding Ukraine seem to represent only a minority of Republican voters. And, thanks to Johnson's adopting former President Donald Trump's suggestion of calling the aid a loan rather than a grant, they're more skeptical of helping Ukraine than the former president.

The vocal and, on campuses, violent left-wingers who oppose aid to Israel have got President Joe Biden worried enough that he felt obliged, after condemning the "antisemitic protests," to also condemn "those who don't understand what's going on with the Palestinians." It's a comment that deserves the treatment that Trump got for talking, without specifying exactly whom he meant, about "very fine people on both sides" at Charlottesville, Virginia.

As Walter Russell Mead wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "Friends and foes who thought America was paralyzed by internal dissension are taking another look."

But that is no reason for complacency. Bipartisan agreement on an aid package does not make a dysfunctional foreign policy functional. As Mead writes, the Biden administration's "failures to deter Russia in Ukraine and Iran in the Middle East, and fears of what a similar failure of deterrence could mean in the Indo-Pacific, have created bipartisan majorities for a more activist, better-armed American presence on the world scene."

The failures go back a ways. Former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama not gauging Russian President Vladimir Putin's potential for evil, the collapse during Chinese leader Xi Jinping's incumbency of the plausible hopes that trade ties would make China a "responsible stakeholder" in world trade and politics, the Obama administration's inexplicable cozying up to the mullahs of Iran -- these initial failures have only now become clear.

Just as Nazi Germany made a pact with Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union in 1939 and formed the Axis with Japan and Italy in 1940, America is faced now with a working alliance of revanchist dictatorial powers determined to alter the balance of power in their favor. The historian Niall Ferguson has no compunction about comparing aid opponents' complaints about Ukraine with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's 1938 description of Adolf Hitler's demands on Czechoslovakia as "a quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing."

Republican aid opponents have their own history to cite. Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) argues that the establishment is presenting "the same exact talking points 20 years later" as those for the invasion of Iraq in 2002-03. But aid is not invasion, Ukraine is not Iraq, and Vance's arguments are no more compelling than the arguments made in 1990-91 that the Gulf War would be another Vietnam.

 

Ferguson seems more persuasive in saying we are now in Cold War II, only this time with China united with Russia and in possession of an advanced economy intertangled with ours.

The Biden administration, in its latest move to cut off Chinese bank financing of the Russian war effort, seems to recognize this, as does Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who complained last month that China is building "overcapacity" in solar energy and lithium ion batteries.

But just saying "don't," as Biden said to Israel before it launched its retaliatory strikes against Iran last week, is not enough.

In the wake of the Hitler-Stalin pact, which gave those two totalitarian allies control of most of the Eurasian landmass by the summer of 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt persuaded Congress to vastly increase military spending, allow aid to Winston Churchill's Britain and institute a military draft -- at a time when more than 80% of Americans opposed going to war.

As hard as it may be to imagine Biden or Trump carrying out such an enterprise, there's a strong case that some significant military buildup and some demonstrated determination to resist aggression is necessary to deter this Cold War's axis of evil from plunging into war with damage -- destruction of lives, of economies, of human rights -- far greater than the horrors inflicted on Ukraine and Israel.

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Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. His new book, "Mental Maps of the Founders: How Geographic Imagination Guided America's Revolutionary Leaders," is now available.


Copyright 2024 U.S. News and World Report. Distibuted by Creators Syndicate Inc.

 

 

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