Leave U.S. allies high and dry?
Rancor in the 2024 presidential and congressional campaigns threatens to distract voters from a truth Americans seldom debated in the past: the United States world leadership is built upon supporting democracy wherever people seek to govern themselves.
Campaigns tend to focus first on domestic issues such as the economy, taxes and inflation before international issues such as strategically shoring up smaller democracies against aggressors. Candidates prefer bread-and-butter topics, and the United States has been leading the world so reliably for so long that many voters just assume that will continue, no matter what party wins.
Voters in this year’s primaries and elections do, however, have to worry about foreign democracies. At stake is whether we elect a president and congressional representatives who see foreign policy as a building block for our own healthy democracy — or who really don’t give a fig.
A world that lost the leadership of its greatest democracy would be a scary one. Voters in other countries know it, and they worry that Americans do not. It is already scary that there are candidates, including incumbents, who seem blind to the dangers of isolationism. They show their stripes by blocking desperately needed aid to Ukraine, the prime example of a vulnerable democracy under attack by a murderous neighbor.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut’s Second District, who is seeking his 10th term in Congress, recently described to The Day Editorial Board the reception he encountered during a visit with Pacific allies.
Taiwanese hosts showed the visitors the beach at the northern end of the island where the Chinese would stage their invasion, if they do. Courtney recounted that Filipinos, who recently voted out a strongman, made it clear to the Americans that they want to strengthen ties with their historic ally, the United States. Japan, neutral following its defeat in world War II, has doubled its defense budget after 75 years, in part because North Korea has been firing rockets over its airspace.
“People still look to us as the friend that can be with them in terms of values,” the congressman said.
Whether they find the United States to be such a friend depends on voters this year. Right now the answer appears to be a clear yes-or-no choice.
If Donald Trump were to win the 2024 election, as he did not in 2020 nor in the popular vote in 2016, and if Republicans were to win a congressional majority that included numerous MAGA politicians, the likelihood for U.S. foreign policy would be an end to aid for Ukraine, opening the path Russian president Vladimir Putin has been waiting for; China freed to have its way with Taiwanese sovereignty and to muscle the Philippines on the high seas and fishing grounds; Japan looking like even more of a target to North Korea.
Middle Eastern states would have to figure out whose side the U.S. is on, and they would play us off against each other; NATO would lose its strongest member, leaving eastern Europe high and dry for Putin’s land grab. Who would trust the United States, then or in the future?
In an election rematch with incumbent President Joe Biden, a Biden victory would continue an administration that has restored foreign policy as a priority; given Ukraine a chance to survive its struggle with Russia; entered into the historic nuclear defense triad with Australia and the United Kingdom, AUKUS; and kept pressure on Israel and Hamas to avoid even greater loss of life.
Foreign policy is a risky business at all times, but it beats the alternative. To pull back from ongoing involvement with allies stifles proactive peacekeeping and makes the United States a last-resort reactor to crises already underway — and probably all alone, without its traditional partners.
Alliances are not one-way charity. The United States needs fellow democracies just as they need us. Our nation cannot afford to leave others adrift, to be seduced or coerced by China, Russia or other unfriendly nations. In the end, we would have to deal with aggressors or cave in to them. That is unthinkable.
When, not if, such crises occur, Americans won’t want to find themselves with leaders who can’t or won’t or don’t know how to act.
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