Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The alleged President-elect (for now) Joe Biden has started assembling his cabinet, and in foreign policy it looks like a return to the failed policies of the Obama years with picks like long-time establishment insiders Anthony Blinken (State, pictured above with Biden) and Jake Sullivan (national security advisor). If, as promised, Biden restores the stale nostrums of the transnational globalist received wisdom embodied in the foreign policy establishment, the advances of the Trump administration will be reversed, putting our security and interests at greater risk.
The most important tool of the “rules-based international order” is “diplomatic engagement” involving multinational institutions staffed by global foreign policy technocrats who presumably can transcend the parochial, zero-sum national interests that foment conflict and war. This bipartisan consensus was defined in 2005 by Oxford professor Kalypso Nicolaidis. It comprises “supranational constraints on unilateral policies and the progressive development of community norms,” and the creation of a “security community” that favors “civilian forms of influence and action” over the use of force, and the guiding principles of which will be “integration, prevention, mediation, and persuasion.”
These questionable assumptions––there’s no such thing as a global “community”–– have long defined the Democrat Party’s foreign policy philosophy, with its pacifist inclinations and distrust of the military. We saw it in the attacks on George W. Bush in the run-up to the second Gulf War in 2002, even though prominent Democrat senators like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry voted to approve the authorization for military force. Later, dissenting senators like Barack Obama became the voice of the new consensus, which was obvious when Clinton and Kerry disavowed their votes during the Democrat presidential primaries. Opposition now focused on Bush’s alleged “failure of diplomacy” even though he had spent months at the UN seeking in vain its approval for putting teeth into the 17 Security Council resolutions it passed against Saddam Hussein, all of which he violated.
This myth of the Republicans’ itchy trigger-finger and disdain for diplomacy has become one of the Dems’ most important political weapons. A corollary to this attack on Bush’s diplomatic failures was his alleged mistreatment of our allies. In 2009, a Los Angeles Times editorial summarized this critique while celebrating Obama’s election as president: “The Bush administration’s hubris and relentless disregard for our allies abroad shredded the fabric of multilateralism . . . The Bush years . . . must be brought to a swift close with a renewed emphasis on diplomacy, consultation and the forging of broad international coalitions.” Sound familiar to the same stale charges against Donald Trump?
Earlier Barack Obama had made that shibboleth one of his campaign staples, asserting in Foreign Affairs that “we must launch a comprehensive regional and international diplomatic initiative to help broker an end to the civil war in Iraq.” He voiced the need “to reinvigorate American diplomacy” as a vital tool to “bring success even when dealing with long-standing adversaries such as Iran and Syria.” Obama continued, “To renew American leadership in the world, I intend to rebuild the alliances, partnerships, and institutions necessary to confront common threats and enhance common security” in order “to build a better, freer world.”
The international elite, who despised George Bush (as they did Ronald Reagan) as an unsophisticated, bungling cowboy, were so delighted with the new president––who promised to subordinate U.S. sovereignty and interests to the Davoisie––that they awarded him a Nobel Peace Prize on spec.
As president, however, Obama’s faith in the “rules-based international order” led to failure after failure. The Hill’s Fred Gedrich highlights the low-lights:
The Obama/Biden reset policy with Russia (2009-2013) backfired as Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and entered the Syria civil war in 2015, which eventually allowed the Kremlin to establish long-term agreements for a Russian airbase and seaport in that country.
The administration’s Libyan misadventure turned into a disaster, with four American diplomats murdered in Benghazi and Libya becoming a failed state. Their premature withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq created a security vacuum that allowed the Islamic State terrorist group to grow, seize and terrorize large portions of land and people in Iraq and Syria beginning 2011.
And don’t forget China, which was enabled by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush when they engineered its acceptance into the World Trade Organization:
The [Obama] administration’s unwillingness to take a strong stance against China allowed that communist government to continue stealing U.S. aerospace, energy, satellites and telecommunications information and use it to wage economic, military and political sabotage and warfare, according to a 2013 Mandiant report. Their failure to install adequate security preventive-measures allowed Chinese hackers to breach the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s computer system in 2015, accessing the personnel and security records of some 22 million Americans.
Donald Trump, Gedrich points out, by challenging the fossilized paradigms of the foreign policy establishment with his common-sense, realist America First policies, corrected the failures of his predecessor:
During his nearly four years in office, President Trump has pursued an “America First” foreign policy. His administration has confronted China over its cyber-thievery and illicit trade practices; buttressed East European allies to protect against Russia aggression and suspended participation in the INF Treaty due to Russia noncompliance; terminated the Iran nuclear deal and killed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard terrorist leader; destroyed the Islamic State’s caliphate and killed its terrorist leader; consummated a historic Middle East peace deal between two Arab States and Israel; and is in the process of removing almost all U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Biden has campaigned on, and no doubt will try to enact, policies that will reverse all these gains by returning to the same globalist foreign policy that generated Obama’s disastrous policies.
The worst of Obama’s mistakes was bringing the U.S. into the multinational Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear deal that transferred directly and indirectly billions of dollars to the regime, reinvigorated its failing economy by removing sanctions, and brought the mullahs closer to nuclear capability––perhaps the most egregious failure of multilateral diplomacy since the 1938 Munich conference.
Indeed, Iran for forty years has been an emblem of such failure. In 1979, the foreign policy establishment misread the brewing revolt against the Shah as an anticolonial movement to wrest democracy and human rights from a brutal autocrat, when in fact it was a religious revolution to create a theocracy with jihadist ambitions threatened by a modernizer similar to Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk. The mullahs kidnapped our embassy staff and held them for 444 days, and were rewarded with funds that the U.S. impounded during the revolution. When Iranian jihadist shock-troops blew up first the American embassy in Lebanon, killing 17, and then five months later the barracks housing U.S. military personnel, killing 241, we did nothing to punish the murders of our citizens and the state sponsor that trained and financed them.
Since that time Iran has helped jihadists to kill thousands of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, murdered Jews, projected its forces into the Syrian maelstrom, attempted to establish outposts on Israel’s borders, and has been a force for disorder and destruction, earning itself the title of number one state-sponsor of terrorism. This is the bad actor that Barack Obama and his foreign policy team, addled by toxic notions of “civilian forms of influence and action,” as Nicolaidis put it, empowered.
That grotesque mistake was corrected by Donald Trump, who withdrew from the nuclear deal, slapped punitive sanctions on the mullahs, and killed its most effective expeditionary force commander. The result was the weakening of Iran’s regime to the point where its end was in sight. All it needed, like the moribund Soviet Union in 1988, was a few more kicks to its rotting foundations––which Trump provided by leaving the nuclear deal.
If he becomes president, Joe Biden will restart the resuscitation of this failed regime whose hands are covered with American blood. The Europeans, those allies Trump has been accused of disrespecting and neglecting, will be delighted to have an American president who’s content to continue an alliance that benefits their national interests at the expense of our own. Meanwhile our other allies like Israel and the Middle East Sunni states will be put at risk as a reinvigorated Iran waxes more powerful and continues its genocidal aims.
As the history of the last four decades shows, the “rules-based international order” Trump challenged and Biden will restore has been a failure, a catalogue of “parchment barriers” that have not created peace––that has been the achievement of American military and economic power––but enabled aggressors for whom diplomacy and participation in multinational institutions and agreements are means for serving their own national interests and aggressive ambitions.
Under Biden, the foreign policy establishment, that congeries of federal employees, think-tankers, academics, and NGO busybodies, will flourish. But for the rest of us, the world will become a riskier and more dangerous place.