The bipartisan front has advantages. In June, Congress passed a sweeping bill providing $ 250 billion in funding for technology research and manufacturing, hoping to bolster America’s ability to compete with China. “There is a surprising degree of agreement between, let’s call it the Trump tribe, and the internationalist tribe,” said Joseph Nye, pointing to the legislation.

Some Democrats say the United States should prioritize human rights, pressuring China to stop its genocide against the Uyghur people and respect individual freedoms. “Focusing on human rights issues is highlighting different systems and the differences between systems,” Daalder said. “It is not used as a club to undermine the leadership of the Chinese regime, or the period of the Chinese regime, in the way that [former Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo and others are doing it.

But the potential drawbacks of ideological competition with China are high. Already, anti-Chinese sentiment has turned to hostility against Asian Americans. A report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that hate crimes increased in July 2018, when the United States and China challenged the tariffs and the Trump administration reveled in anti-Chinese fanaticism . “The attempt to tie Covid to China, calling it ‘the Chinese virus’ and all that, which you’ve seen Trump and Trump’s Republicans do, has already had a huge impact,” said Katrina Mulligan, who has worked at the Justice Department and the NSC during Obama’s presidency. She pointed out that unlike Russians, America’s main enemies in the 20th century, Asian Americans are different from whites, making them easy targets for fanatics who want to take action against Sinophobia. It is extremely difficult to compete with China, opposing its human rights violations and authoritarianism, while simultaneously fighting against local xenophobia, McCarthyism and racism. “I don’t think we know how to do it,” said Heather Hurlburt, who leads New America’s New Models of Policy Change project. “The universe of people who are ready to act on these two ideas is extremely small.”

More alarmingly, the dangers of nuclear war will increase because of heightened tensions between China and the United States. Assuming China continues to strengthen, it will have additional power to advance its interests. This poses challenges to American domination, especially in East Asia. “This is an important moment when a major power passes or catches up its overall capabilities with another major power,” said Barry Posen of MIT, a leading proponent of a foreign policy emphasizing restraint. Hot spots like Taiwan and Hong Kong are particularly dangerous, as the United States has staked its credibility on defending lands of little strategic importance, but which China considers essential to its territorial integrity. “It requires some kind of subtle foreign and defense policy, and that’s not our strong suit,” he said.

Lessons from the 9/11 era

In environments like this, a modest, cautious, long-term strategy is essential. The same goes for prioritizing vital interests, reducing unnecessary conflicts and managing resources. Sadly, the history of US foreign policy since September 11 is largely a story of wasting human lives and wealth, recklessly damaging the country’s precious capabilities and soft power. America’s supreme position in the 1990s meant it had a huge cushion of power to squander on failed military interventions, trillion-dollar wars, and unnecessary defense spending. But this cushion has shrunk. Al Qaeda has failed to expel the United States from the Middle East – the nation still supports repressive governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and elsewhere. But the September 11 attacks were largely successful in pushing the United States into deeply destructive acts that have undermined American security, not to mention lives lost elsewhere.

On a small scale, due to the constant series of failures, Washington has become more sympathetic to the idea of ​​a foreign policy focused on restraint or withdrawal. The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank founded in 2019, is a critical counterbalance by providing media and lawmakers with policy-relevant research from a perspective that views US power and interests as limited and selective. rather than inexhaustible and global. “Restraint is now part of the conversation,” said Andrew Bacevich, president of the institute. “But I don’t think anything like any deal has been made.”

There appears to be at least a temporary injunction in Washington to try to build states abroad. As Khanna said, the country is now “more cautious about the ability of military interventions to transform societies.” Do I think there might still be overreaction on civil liberties and some misguided foreign policy forays? Sure, but I think we’ve learned the lesson from Iraq.

But it’s not clear that members of the foreign policy establishment think their record is uneven. “If you take stock of where we are today and what we have done after 20 years, the war on terrorism has certainly been much more costly than we wanted it to be, with very imperfect results in the region, for quality of life and governance. in the Middle East, but it still had some success, ”said Michael O’Hanlon. Kenneth Pollack noted that while the war in Iraq has been horribly mismanaged and the United States has made other mistakes, “in 2001, no one believed that in the next 20 years there would be no would not have another major terrorist attack “.

These accounts suggest that Al Qaeda’s inability to retaliate its attacks means that US strategy has been effective and wise. This assessment underestimates the scale and frequency of the foreseeable failures of the United States in favor of praising an outcome that would have been easier to achieve without spending billions of dollars and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. people. It’s like a person who needs a car worth $ 25,000 who spends $ 1 million on the car at a dealership, has a few drinks while driving it home, gets a few speeding tickets and causes a hit and run that kills someone, but declares success because he, in fact, got the car.

Moreover, policymakers from both parties and some foreign policy intellectuals may be overlooking the key lesson of the past 20 years – that the use of armed force often weakens America’s international standing. Both Democrats and Republicans fear that the reduction in American influence in the world will be replaced by China, Russia, Iran or other nefarious actors. But that assumes that the United States is in danger whenever other countries wield power. “Foreign policy should be interest driven, not void,” said Barry Posen. “If your interests aren’t in one place, why do you care?” “

The country could put its power to good use. Few things would benefit the United States more than converting enemies and challengers through tenacious diplomacy rather than perpetually trying to coerce them with sanctions, bombastic rhetoric, or armed force. The deal with Iran, Russia’s commitment to the US terrorism project from 2001 to 2003, and China’s continued ideological changes over the decades suggest that skillful and creative diplomacy and the appropriate recognition of interests of other countries can reduce tensions, provide opportunities for cooperation and prevent the emergence of balanced coalitions against the United States. “Trying to befriend opponents is an important tool in the art of government that is often overlooked,” said Charles Kupchan, author of How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace.

Domestic challenges and intense political polarization make diplomacy and peacemaking difficult, however, not only with the Taliban around 2002, but perpetually. “There is always a nationalist waiting behind the scenes to say that you are selling the country, that you are weak in the face of danger,” Kupchan said. Diplomacy would also mean recognizing the interests of other countries, dealing directly with adversaries, and accepting imperfect deals. Because the best way to secure the United States is to preserve its power, reduce its list of vital interests and build a better country at home, not to waste blood, treasure and soft power in the pursuit futile of world domination and armed humanitarianism. This is a point of view that has not gained prominence in Washington. This is certainly not the case after September 11. Maybe one day it will be.

For better or worse, the foreign policy establishment is weaker and more fragmented than it has been since the end of the Vietnam War. But it still exists, and it has tentatively learned some things from the performance of unnecessary, counterproductive, and sometimes disastrous U.S. foreign policy over the past 20 years. “The real problem with Afghanistan has been the decision to try to occupy the country, to try to eradicate the Taliban and to transform it,” Kenneth Pollack said. “I think we learned that it was ultimately impossible.”

But even the withdrawal from Afghanistan is very controversial among part of the elite. And the demonization of other countries and peoples, the inability to understand the worldview of challengers and adversaries, overreliance on force: these traits remain, for they were ingrained in Washington long before September 11. Due to its undisputed international position, the United States may have made major mistakes for two decades after the fall of the Twin Towers and has still become predominant. However, with an emerging China possessing nuclear weapons, a growing economy, the world’s largest population, and growing demands, the United States cannot afford another 20 years of failure.

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