All Eyes on Putin
It's a story as old as time. A powerful country masses an army on the border of a weaker neighbor with the intent to invade or intimidate.
Vladimir Putin believes that the mobilization of forces near Ukraine will support Russia's foreign policy objectives. Some suggest that civilization has advanced, and no sovereign nation innocent of wrongdoing should fear foreign aggression. This observation is noble, but many political leaders are not.
Vladimir Putin kills his enemies. Some endured horrible suffering when poisoned with radioactive materials, while others were simply shot in the head. Russia, China, and many other countries are despotic regimes. Powerful people rule these countries dictating terms of governance. They may establish goals that will improve the lives of their people, but the primary beneficiary will be those in control. Noble objectives can be goals of foreign policy, but the policy itself must be based on the harsh realities of the world we live in. The foreign policy objectives of the United States must be for the benefit of the American people, not a party, faction, or politician.
The defeat of the Soviet Union is evidence that Democrats and Republicans can achieve a common foreign policy objective. One of the primary reasons for this achievement was the strength of the American economy. Domestic circumstances and foreign policy don't operate in a vacuum, one independent of the other. Shortly after the Iron Curtain came tumbling down, American industry began outsourcing itself to foreign factories with lower labor costs and fewer regulations. Some outsourcing was supported by the North American Free Trade Agreement, which also enjoyed bipartisan support. The agreement was an instrument of American foreign policy. Millions of Americans lost their jobs as a result. The U.S. economy is still the largest in the world, but American industry is diminished.
Outsourcing of American industry may enjoy bipartisan support and increase the profits of political donors but can have devastating effects on America. As the COVID pandemic began to dominate news coverage, a story circulated that the United States no longer produces pharmaceutical chemicals required to make antibiotics. The chemicals are produced in China, a potential adversary. Recently, many products were in short supply because electronic components weren't available. The computer chips and electronic components used to manufacture thousands of products, including military equipment, could and should be produced in the U.S. A vibrant economy and a reliable industrial base are important to America's security and well-being. If the United States allows its industrial base to shrink, its capacity to compete globally will diminish.
Government planning and interference in financial markets can negatively impact the well-being of its people. Germany's policy position on Ukraine is currently affected by its energy plan. In 2010, Germany legislated an energy policy to transition from conventional energy sources to renewables. The country has greatly reduced coal production, the only fossil fuel available in commercial volumes. They are committed to ending the consumption of fossil fuels by 2050. Renewable sources have proven unsatisfactory, and Germans are now paying some of the highest energy costs in Europe. As a remedy, Germany is importing large volumes of natural gas from Russia, since gas burns cleaner than coal. Germany has been less critical of Russian aggression toward Ukraine than many of its allies. The Germans don't want to undermine their energy imports from Russia. If these imports stop, it will be a cold, dark winter. The decision to stop using fossil fuels may be a noble national policy, but it is now affecting the foreign policy of Germany, its allies, and the Russians.
Many Americans are aggravated by foreign interference in elections. In 2016, the Russians planted propaganda on Facebook and other media sites attempting to interfere with the presidential election. Consider that the United States has broadcast what a Russian might consider propaganda into eastern Europe for generations via Radio Free Europe. Competitive governments undermine one another. Remember the fate of the Soviet Union. This is not to suggest we should overlook foreign interference, but we should expect it. America must protect its elections, intellectual property, government secrets, and the privacy of its people against all foreign interference.
We know that China has blatantly stolen a variety of technology, business, and government secrets. The Chinese have funded some politicians and bribed other politicians' relatives. China dwarfs Russia as an economic and military power. The Chinese challenge American interests all over the world. They don't hide their intention to conquer Taiwan. The National Institutes of Health financed Chinese studies of viral infections at a laboratory where gain of function research was conducted. China is America's largest and most dangerous competitor. Why does America fund Chinese science and business? Sending money to China for any reason will only serve to advance the objectives of the Chinese Communist Party.
The crisis in Ukraine has everyone's attention. Putin lectures the world, but the audience he plays to is the Russian people. Putin can toy with his adversaries while telling domestic audiences his foreign policy is purely for the benefit of Mother Russia. He knows that the United States will not defend Ukraine because this is what President Biden told the world.
During a crisis like this, one might expect a president to suggest "all cards are on the table" even if they're not. When a president takes military intervention off the table, it makes ongoing negotiations more difficult. One might also expect the government of the United States to tell an aggressor to "stand down." When the aggressor asks what that may mean, the answer would likely be "you don't want to find out."
Putin knows that if he wants Ukraine, it's his. The Ukrainians seem to be willing to fight. There is some likelihood that the Ukrainian military and brave civilians may engage in a fight and give the Russians a bloody nose. Putin doesn't want a bloody nose or trouble with European nations. They are funding Russia's mobilization by purchasing huge volumes of natural gas and petroleum. If valves on the pipelines are closed, Europe will be left shivering in the dark, and Russia won't have petrodollars to pay for its exploits. Nobody has a winning hand in this game. It's also conceivable that Ukraine's European friends might wink at Vladimir and suggest he make quick work of his Ukrainian conquest. The valves won't be turned off for long. The lights will hardly dim.
This may be another Munich moment for Western democracies. Putin may be seeking security for the Russian people, or this may be the first step in expanding Russian influence and control. Teddy Roosevelt advised his successors to "speak softly and carry a big stick." The soft voice of the government must be amplified by a robust economy.
Americans tend to view foreign policy as the achievement of dynamic goals. For decades, the country's main objective was to bring down the Soviet Union. America is a country by, for, and of the people, and all the government's policies should support this dynamic. The world is a harsh place that can quickly become cruel. America's foreign policy must be forged to benefit the American people in the face of the harsh realities that surround them.
Image via Pixabay.