Professor Peter Harris (University of Colorado) suggests, in an article in Business Insider, that President-elect Biden will find it difficult, likely impossible to achieve anything like bipartisan support for his foreign policy. Even many Democrats, Professor Harris, says will not accept Biden’s views. Instead, he argues, President-elect Biden should borrow “from Wayne Gretzky, he should skate to where the puck is going — not to where it has been. This means nudging foreign policy in the direction of multilateral cooperation, diplomatic sophistication, and especially military restraint — a broad-brush approach that enjoys growing support in Washington and across the country.“
Now, experts have differing opinion about the utility of Dr Harris’ specific prescription which begin with, first, to “start by rejoining those international agreements and organizations that were abandoned by President Trump — the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, the World Health Organization, UNESCO, and the UN Human Rights Council, to name just some … [he says that] … This is low-hanging fruit. For while there are Republicans in Congress who will criticize Biden for returning to the “globalism” of the pre-Trump era, opinion polls show that the American people are largely disposed toward international cooperation.” I think that last bit is correct but many millions of Americans believe that Iran, for example, does not respond honestly to diplomatic deals and that the selective assassination of its nuclear scientists is a more productive approach. Equally, while most Americans, I think, believe in joining, if for no other reasons than that it prevents China from controlling many major international organizations, I think that most Americans also want those organizations to function openly and honestly and not as agents for this, that or the other group.
Professor Harris second prescription will be a little harder to swallow. President-elect Biden, he says, “ought to reject the inevitability of conflict with China and make serious efforts to smooth relations with Beijing. Democrats are divided on the question of China, but most are wary of sleepwalking into a new cold war — let alone a hot one. So are many Republicans. The worsening of the US-China relationship is one of Trump’s most dangerous legacies. Biden must repair the damage.” Although Democrats may be divided, my sense is that a solid majority of Americans, and a growing number of Australians, Brits, Canadians and Danes, think that Cold War 2.0 is NOT a bad thing. He minces his words a bit by saying “Of course, there are areas where a robust approach to China is sorely needed, such as human rights and climate policy. President Trump rarely pressed Beijing on these issues. Biden will enjoy the enthusiastic backing of his party if he makes them central to his China policy. He might also attract support from Republicans reluctant to endorse a policy of unalloyed conciliation … [but he says] … At minimum, Biden should end the self-defeating trade war with China … [a point with which I agree but about which Xi Jinping might have other ideas because, in many (non-strategic) areas, America is being hurt worse than China] … explore ways to reduce military tensions in the Asia-Pacific …[also a good idea that harks back to Cold War 1.o against the USSR] … and propose bilateral cooperation to tackle the (still-raging) COVID-19 pandemic and kickstart the global economic recovery that the whole world is depending upon. These are modest positions that most rightminded Democrats and Republicans could get behind.” I doubt that many Republicans would “get behind” either notion and I suspect that many, many Democrats, looking at the results of the 2020 Senate and House elections, would be equally reluctant to support either idea.
Third, Professor Harris says “Biden must follow through on a military withdrawal from Afghanistan by May 2021. Ending America’s longest war should be the central pillar of a general policy of retrenchment from West Africa to Central Asia.” He, say, correctly, that “The United States has been at war somewhere in this vast region since the 9/11 attacks — usually fighting in multiple warzones simultaneously. At some point, the American public needs to be assured that there will be an end to the fighting, killing, and dying.” I’m sorry, but long wars, even multiple long wars are not a sign of a bad foreign policy. It is true that America has had real problems, for 60 years, since 1960, in defining WHY it goes to war ~ forget about the American people, the US government has, again since 1960, been unable to explain yo itself WHY it was in so many long, long wars in so many places. The problem is that politics has, too often, overtaken policy. Now, Peter Harris wants President-elect Biden to do the same because, as he notes, “For their part, Democrats have been coalescing around the idea of a “rightsized” military for some time, recognizing that the United States today does not face a major foreign threat to its national security.” In other words, he wants the incoming administration to ignore the fact that the global balance of power, not just military power …
… is shifting away from America. I sympathize with the very natural human desire to end the seemingly never-ending wars and “bring the boys home,” but what will the world be like if China and Russia and Iran step into the voids left by an Ameican withdrawal?
After offering his prescriptions for picking the “low hanging fruit,” Professor Harris returns to his Gretzky analogy and urges President-elect Biden to move his policies “to where politics seem to be headed rather than fixating on where things currently are or have been.” I would suggest that he should move his policies where the best strategic assessments, not partisan politics, suggest things seem to be headed, not where they are now and the aim of the policy rebalancing exercise should be to move things in directions that serve America’s vital interests, not Russia’s. That, I suspect, is what a substantial majority of Americans wants.
He concludes by saying that “The case for a new foreign policy is strong … [and I agree with that, and] … In the long run, it might well turn out that even the most recalcitrant Democrats and Republicans have no choice but to reconcile themselves to a foreign policy of international cooperation and military restraint — the only bipartisan consensus worth having.” I disagree with the last bit. The gold standard of a bipartisan foreign policy was established when (1945) Senator Arthur Vandenberg did a major political volte-face and asserted that “partisan politics must stop at the water’s edge,” meaning that while he, as a senior Republican legislator would continue to oppose President Truman’s domestic agenda, he would use his powerful position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to support the emerging Truman Doctrine: containing the USSR, forming alliances, making Breton Woods work, etc.
I do not see any Vandenbergs on either side of the aisle in 2020/2021 and I believe that the partisan gulf …
… separating leading Democrats and leading Republicans is too wide and too deep to be bridged in the near term, before, say, 2024, because that partisan political canyon reflects the views of hundreds of millions of Americans who are ready, right now, to march off in two very different directions.
Some of the things that I expect President-elect Biden to do will be good and helpful for Canada and the Western Alliance ~ which stretches from Singapore to Amman, Jordan …
… others will be problematical. He will, being a politician, look for domestic and international political consensus. He will find little. He will, I am reasonably certain, pluck the “low hanging fruit” which involves returning to an Obama type foreign policy, hopefully with a bit more muscle.
“Rightsizing” the US military does NOT involve slashing the defence budget. The reverse is likely true. The US, and the US-led West, needs more not fewer carrier battle groups that can patrol the world, more nor fewer combat brigades and more, not fewer front-line air force squadrons. Some of that should be the responsibility of allies, including Canada, and I hope that President-elect Biden will maintain, even strengthen President Trump’s demands that allies, especially niggardly Canada, live up their promises to rebuild their defences.
The USA and the US-led West should indeed follow the ‘Great One‘s’ guidance and skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been. The foreign policy puck is headed East. It is being stick-handled by China, Iran and Russia, who are, at best, only the fairest of fair-weather-friends but who share one overarching common interest: weakening the USA and the US-led West. America, and Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark and all the other allies, too, need to develop ~ and fund ~ a clear, common and common-sense strategy that aims to secure the US-led West’s position in the world and share it with others. That’s what Wayne Gretzky would do.