In the most recent pair of Democratic presidential primary debates, I watched to find a combined total of fewer than 15 minutes spent on foreign policy questions that would have been important in 2004. What is this, a mockery of the intelligence of voters?
As Heather Souvaine Horn wrote for The New Republic, “Pity the poor optimist who was hoping to see Joe Biden or Kamala Harris tested on a core component of the job they’re seeking.”
Since the moderators will not do it, here’s a list of five foreign policy questions reporters should badger Democratic candidates with, in no order or priority, but all interconnected to the challenges of today.
1. Will You Admit that Intervening in Libya Was a Strategic Blunder?
While admittedly former dictator Muammar Gaddafi was brutal, he was no more brutal than the Saudis, or Turks, the North Koreans, or even the Chinese. However, it was under President Obama that Gaddafi was toppled in a boneheaded policy with global ramifications that continue to this day.
Libya, the biggest country in the North African coastline, is now anarchic, with dozens of different warlords and factions fighting for authority. There’s a slave trade hub, and the entire Mediterranean coastline is bereft of the last vestiges of authority, which has led to (nonprofit- and activist-assisted) mass migration on a scale hitherto unparalleled, which has led to practically the collapse of the European Union project, rise of populist parties, and arguably even Brexit.
Please raise your hand to show that you have learned from that mistake and vow not to repeat that misadventure again.
2. What Is the Strategic U.S. Interest in Iran, and Our Future Course of Action There?
One of the biggest challenges the United States faces in the Persian Gulf is Iran. That’s not because Iran is a rising power—on the contrary, Iran is bleeding dry and stretched thin from Tehran to Tartous. Neither do we have any energy interest in the Gulf anymore.
There are two courses of action: one, to let Saudi Arabia and Israel balance Iran, whereupon the West plays the role of an offshore balancer and refuses to send troops for any engagement, and sells weapons to allied states, the strategy followed during the Cold War; or the United States goes to balance Iran on its own and tries to stabilize the Middle East, the strategy followed since 1993.
Which option is better, and why?
3. How Should the United States Deal With the EU, NATO, and Europe?
Nowhere is the change more rapid than Europe. As the EU consolidates, it is turning into a liberal hegemon with its own foreign policy, often at odds with the United States; its own trade policies, which are often punitive to U.S. companies; and a peer competitor, freeriding on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, while turning to form an EU army of its own.
Once again, there are three options ahead of the United States. One, to continue to engage, and press Europe to pay their fair share, as well as discourage any consolidation of the EU as an empire independent of U.S. hegemony.
Two, to retrench, and let the EU take care of itself, with its own armed forces if needed, and let the EU live or die on its own policies, which includes facing Russia on its own. Three, divide and rule, whereupon the United States forces move away from rich west European countries, and focuses simply on the East European countries. That would also destabilize and end Brussels’ and Berlin’s dreams of making the EU a political union.
Which course should any future U.S. president support, in the long term?
4. How Should the United States Balance China?
It is only a matter of time before Beijing cracks down on the Hong Kong protests, as Chinese troops are reportedly massing at the borders and Hong Kong protesters are reportedly getting more and more radicalized. Possibly one of the biggest challenges for a Democrat president, should he or she win, will be how to handle China.
The first challenge will be on how to respond to Chinese aggression in Hong Kong. What is an adequate response? The candidates should be also called out for vague gibberish like “upholding international law and norms” and “safeguarding democratic values.” Instead, one should inquire about an actual set of policies that can be used.
Should the West turn a blind eye, or ramp up sanctions, or sell weapons to Taiwan and Vietnam, or try to institutionalize and form a set of alliances in Asia with Australia, Japan, South Korea, and India? Given that the biggest geopolitical threat is the rise of China, this question particularly needs a thorough answer.
5. How Should the United States Tackle the Pressure on Its Southern Border?
There are of course other topics that need to be answered, but the final question should be about the failed regimes in Latin and Central America. Democrats have pushed constantly to denigrate the concept of citizenship. While no one directly wants to say he supports practically open borders in policy, they have hinted at policies that are essentially open borders.
From decriminalizing border crossings, to stopping any funding of border walls, to criminalizing any border enforcement, to covertly supporting illegal aliens present in U.S. cities, to equating PhDs and other highly skilled legal migrants with illegal border jumpers, the current Democratic Party has completely adopted the globalist idea that nation-states are by definition evil, and therefore the entire concept needs to be eradicated—if not directly, slowly.
Any further calls for decriminalization of mass migration and border jumping will lead to the problem faced in Europe, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 siren song meant that illegal attempts to land within European territory increased a thousand-fold. The United States would also likewise see waves and waves of migrants, simply trying to get a foothold.
The three ways to tackle that are, one, border walls and deportations; two, having proxy regimes in failed states like Guatemala and Nicaragua and El Salvador who enforce their borders or else are regarded as hostile regimes; or, three, to accept, on record, that the Democrat candidates do not support the concept of borders or, therefore, of nations.
Given that the stakes are high, all this needs to be clear for the American public, on record.