CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, a tight member in the elite and trade-centric Davos foreign policy establishment, this week published an editorial suggesting that America lacks flexibility in its foreign policy.
Unfortunately, his analysis cherrypicks recent policies, glosses over some of the most egregious foreign policy mistakes in history, and idealizes his form of free-trade realpolitik as pragmatism for the sake of stability and peace when instead, this brand of morality-agnostic realpolitik only exists to facilitate authoritarianism, war, and crimes against humanity.
The first question should examine what his conception of engagement means. The US, despite its best efforts, has failed to maintain lines of military communication with China, not because of American unwillingness, but because of the latter’s hostility towards overall US policy. In this case, would Fareed’s form of engagement mean giving political concessions to China simply to bribe them into being willing to speak to the US? On the matter of North Korea, too, the Biden administration has repeatedly expressed its willingness and intention to maintain open lines of communication, but again, the regime has rejected these overtures, openly blaming US policy. Reflecting the failures experienced by the Trump regime at detente, such rhetoric that only a rollback of its sanctions regime against North Korea’s hostile and illegal nuclear proliferation, or the US loosening its nearly century-old ties with South Korea, as preconditions for dialogue, would soften North Korean intransigence and unwillingness to communicate. Does Fareed thus suggest that the US repeat its 1979 mistake of short-sightedly betraying a decades-old ally, all in order to appease and coddle the most barbaric and totalitarian regimes the world has ever witnessed?
We must critically examine the costs for rapprochement before criticizing the foreign policy limitations that the US finds itself in, and recognize that in many cases, the strategic costs far outweigh the benefits in every facet.
Rapprochement itself is often lauded in the contemporarily praised, but now regrettable decision made by elites of both political parties in the United States to betray the ally ROC in Taiwan and switch recognition to the PRC. Under the cliched premise of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” the US not only sacrificed its credibility by betraying its longstanding ally, but in order to damage an ailing dinosaur regime that wouldn’t survive the next decade, the US’ mistake set in motion the economic, technological, and political advancement of the PRC regime that has become an unprecedented global threat, creating a viable rival that seeks to revise the entire world order, but also has a population outnumbering the United States 5:1, and unlike the USSR, the strategic resources to enact such changes. This makes no mention of the ideological costs of any passive acceptance of China’s horrific human rights abuses, massacres, and the cultural genocide taking place even now, mirroring past American two-faced and shameful support of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge while simultaneously feigning outrage over the genocide his regime perpetrated.
This paradigm has repeated itself time and time again. hen America maintains a dual policy of castigating certain states for human rights abuses, but ignores them when in the interest of national elites, America not only loses credibility and the moral authority of its values, it makes the world more cynical, damages US interests, and leads to suffering abroad.
Fareed still implies that diplomatic rapprochement with the world’s pariah states, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Myanmar, and Russia is the response to the isolation that the regimes have incurred for decades, implying that is a progressive response to a failed policy.
While isolation has not led to the fall of these regimes, it is far preferable to the alternative, the perpetuation, entrenchment, and enrichment of those regimes, all for the eternal fraud that with US engagement, liberalization is just over the horizon. Access to American markets, American recognition, and diplomatic respect should not be treated as cheap handouts, they should be the privilege of American partners, not sold for a year of cheaper oil between OPEC meetings, or one-time trade concessions. The failed transactional foreign policy of the last regime, one that Fareed bemoans, is apparently alive and well in Fareed’s own subconscious, and such cold calculus can only lead to a world that only values resources, and force, not democracy and liberal values.
This does not mean that we should not keep open diplomatic channels and communicate with these pariah regimes, but offering concessions to tyrants for dialogue, more broadly ignoring the global explosion in autocracy, is incredibly short sighted, and is to our own detriment. Not only are these fickle friends, regimes who will quickly betray the US for a better offer from the PRC, Russia, or Iran, coddling authoritarian regimes is dangerous because the regimes themselves are unstable. People in those states will remember, too, that it was the US who backed the regimes who murdered their families and raped their countries, and perhaps never forgive us.
It is true that there is generally no black and white in geopolitics, and that the deeply flawed but well-intentioned US can not cloister itself from the outside world, but not only the costs, but reasons for further rapprochement must be deeply examined, and measured against our own values.
If the reasons for improving relations with a country are to prevent war, to improve our ability to influence regimes, to counter a strategic threat and save lives, or to promote liberal values, then compromise is worth it.
If the reasons are financial, like Joe Biden cuckolding himself to a murderous autocrat in Saudi Arabia in the sad hopes that it would curry enough favor with him to up OPEC output, the answer should be a resounding no. If they are to increase trade with a regime that has no prospect or intention of every liberalizing just for the interests of America’s economic elite, the answer should also be a resounding no. When America is forced to bite its tongue and silently accept crimes against humanity because of the glass hearts of mass murderers, the answer should always be no.