The Rational Policy Podcast is back with another installment of the Foreign Telegram! A lot has happened abroad in the months of May and June 2023, and host Mike Cote brings you all of the most important news. Three subjects really made a huge impact over the past two months: elections in Turkey, a potential US-China rapprochement, and the Russia coup that wasn’t. Listen in to get the key information and geopolitical perspective on these critical topics and what they mean for the United States and the world.
The most hardcore supporters of Ukraine in the West are too gung-ho about war aims, to the point of being entirely counterproductive. In geopolitics, prudence is often a virtue.
As you may have heard, the war in Ukraine that has been raging since the Russian invasion last February is reaching a new phase: a major Ukrainian counteroffensive. This push by Kyiv to retake its lost territory will fundamentally alter the entire picture and tenor of the war going forward. Lines of contact will shift, breakthroughs will occur, and new lines of contact and defense will be settled for the fall and winter campaigning seasons. Many of the NATO weapons systems transferred to Ukraine will get their first real chance to make a difference on the battlefield. Moves are likely to be made in several theaters, including partisan actions within Russia itself – something we have already seen in Belgorod and elsewhere. The war will likely continue for several years, but this Ukrainian counteroffensive can set the terms for what happens going forward.
Now that this new phase of the war has begun – one with Ukraine decidedly, albeit temporarily, on the front foot – commentators and politicians in the West have started to debate, discuss, and reassess war aims. This is always a crucial topic of conversation when a nation in involved in a war, whether directly as Ukraine and Russia are, or indirectly as the United States and NATO are. These discussions usually involve questions like “What do we seek to gain through this conflict?”, “What is a positive endgame for us in this war?”, and “What is an acceptable solution for our national interests?” These are very important questions, but the answers from those on the fringes of the discourse – especially those who are the most outwardly supportive of Ukraine – have been seriously lacking.
Flying Pride flags at U.S. embassies abroad is a counterproductive, divisive practice which privileges domestic constituencies over national interests.
It’s June, which means that Pride Month is upon us. If you haven’t noticed the public virtue-signaling yet – whether it’s from woke corporations, police departments, or even sports teams – I’d suggest you get your eyes checked. Rainbows abound, as do the increasingly militant demands and exaggerated claims of LGBT activists across the country. Conservatives have pushed back against these progressive aims, with varying degrees of intensity and success. In short, the month of June has become a full-on culture war. Still, all of this domestic cultural strife is par for the course, although it has ramped up in intensity as of late. What is truly disturbing, however, is how this divisive cultural progressivism has infected our foreign policy.
“Politics stops at the water’s edge” is an old, idealistic adage that has more often than not been ignored throughout American history. Politicians of all stripes tend to use American presence abroad – in peace and war – to elevate their domestic policies and ideas. For instance, the 1790s Quasi-War against France had as much to do with internal arguments between factions headed by Jefferson and Adams as it did international relations. Presidents past and present have harshly critiqued the foreign policy of their predecessors, with some going so far as to criticize America itself abroad – see President Obama’s remarks during his early time in office, for example. Clearly, this is not a new phenomenon.
What is far less common, and thus more concerning, is the export of controversial cultural ideologies from the sphere of domestic debates to that of global affairs. And that brings us back to Pride Month.
Should the strong protect the weak? The answer to this question says a great deal about the divergence between contemporary European and American attitudes on foreign policy.
Over the past few decades, Western European and American conceptions of foreign policy and international affairs have drifted apart, especially during Republican presidencies in the US. Those administrations have typically been more hawkish and clear-eyed about the dangers that the West faces; from Islamic terrorism, to Iranian nuclear proliferation, to the irredentist, expansionist dangers of Russia and China. In a 2012 debate between Mitt Romney and then-President Barack Obama, Western Europeans laughed along with American liberals at Obama’s sardonic criticism of Romney’s focus on Russia as a geopolitical foe. Just two years later, Romney would be proven right, as Russia invaded Ukraine. One would think that such a blatant assault on the international order – on the European continent, no less – would undermine this attitude of naïve optimism about potential foes. Unfortunately, it did not.
Western Europe continued its permissive and conciliatory posture towards the triumvirate of Iran, Russia, and China, despite the egregious human rights abuses and outwardly belligerent stances taken by those nations. Iran should be lauded for coming to the table to discuss its nuclear ambitions, while its constant support for international terrorism and regional instability can be conveniently swept under the rug. Russia is a trustworthy source of the energy that powers our civilization, even if they are chronic saber-rattlers and seek to reconstitute the imperium of old. China must be our friend because of commerce and climate; just ignore the genocide, economic coercion, and revanchist hegemonic aims. And, of course, European nations need to spend even less on defense and focus more on positive engagement and diplomacy. What sort of barbarian spends a whole two percent of its budget on its military?! Preposterous. History has ended, and we have won.
This has been how Europe – I’m using Europe here as a shorthand for the Western Europeans who largely run the EU and influence the continent’s broad foreign policy – has behaved internationally for the past decade. And now they’re faced with the consequences of their actions.
The Foreign Telegram has returned, just in time to recap some fascinating and important international events from the month of April 2023. In this dispatch, we discuss the unfolding chaos in Sudan and the lackluster American response when it comes to evacuating its citizens, detail the penetration of Chinese Communist Party secret police stations in the US and around the world, and touch on the imprisonment of a courageous Russian dissident, Vladimir Kara-Murza. The month has been a whirlwind of news from abroad; let the Foreign Telegram lay it all out for you.