It is an undeniable fact that presently America is experiencing serious challenges on both domestic and foreign fronts. The dramatic polarization of society, the largest number of pandemic victims and major disputes between the nuclear powers require strong leadership and social unity.
With the uncertainty of the 2020 election result, it is impossible to foresee how things will develop since both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have practically opposite ideas about how to find the way out of these multiple crises. Therefore, let us direct our thoughts to both possible outcomes by reviewing some basic realities that we will have to confront in the coming years.
American leadership: America is still the most powerful economic and military force, and its policy choices directly impact the rest of the world.
It is so easy to blame America’s polarization on Russia and the pandemic on China. But when it comes to U.S. leadership, more and more people here and abroad have come to question not only America’s moral right to lead but whether the republic is even capable of the task.
President Franklin Roosevelt believed that America must lead by example and help others in need upon request, as a good neighbor should. This foreign policy outlook had its roots in the Monroe Doctrine and in John Quincy Adams’ admonition that America should go “not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” This wisdom is a far cry from anything the world has come to recognize in U.S. policy in recent decades.
In his Foreign Affairs article earlier this year, Mr. Biden states that he will reverse Mr. Trump’s embarrassing foreign policy record by standing up to China, Russia and other nations he regards as totalitarian, and “once more have America lead the world.”
Since Mr. Biden and many others who appraise “freedom and democracy” as the highest virtues which America should bring to mankind, wouldn’t it be fair to ask the other 200 or so countries if they “choose” the U.S. as their hegemonic leader? I am sure there are some that would, but no doubt that there are also many that would not. Isn’t that how democracy works?
Mr. Biden went further, promising to undo the harm Mr. Trump has done to NATO and reinforce that military body, extending its influence to include Australia, Japan, South Korea, India and Indonesia. This should raise alarms considering it is coming from a man who voted for every single military intervention over the course of his 36-year run in the Senate and enthusiastically supported all Obama wars and regime changes.
Mr. Trump’s failure to extend the START treaty with Russia is a mistake and here Mr. Biden looks better when he pledges to renew this treaty for five years.
It is true that Mr. Trump has not started any new wars, but his call for withdrawing U.S. troops from “never-ending wars” hasn’t yet stopped even one. Recent changes in the Pentagon might help him to achieve this goal, but how does that square with Mr. Trump’s insistence that America should leave enough troops in Syria to control its oil fields?
The president has also called out the deep state on numerous occasions, but in the end he was unable to overcome its resistance to his foreign policy vision that positive U.S.-Russia relations are good for America, which he announced on numerous occasions.
One is reminded of the blood-curdling admission made by the former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow George Kennan in 1987, when the old Cold Warrior said:
“Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial complex (MIC) would have to remain, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.”
Former senior CIA analyst Raymond McGovern, who was responsible for President Reagan’s daily intelligence briefing, believes that nowadays MIC grew into MICIMATT -Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex, a very powerful body that neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Biden is capable of overcoming.
The difference is that Mr. Trump wants to do it but cannot, while Mr. Biden is a part of it.
Two options: Trump stays or goes.
So, where does this leave those of us who do not accept the role of passive bystanders waiting for the world to sleepwalk into WWIII?
American historian and author Suzanne Massie, who was called upon by Reagan for 16 long private meetings in the White House from 1984-88, and was deployed on several back-door missions to Moscow, recently provided one insightful answer to this question.
Ms. Massie believes in the people-to-people approach and strongly urges Americans and Russians, both experts in different fields and ordinary citizens who are concerned with these issues, to raise their voices, start talking to each other and think how we can save this beautiful planet. New technologies allow us to do it without spending money on travel, and nowadays even translation services are readily available online.
Of course, people-to-people dialogue cannot replace one on the government level. It is a fact that whoever settles in the White House should listen to the 100+ leading U.S. foreign policy experts who recently called for such a dialogue with Moscow when they urged “a balanced commitment to deterrence and détente. Thus, while maintaining our defense, we should also engage Russia in a serious and sustained strategic dialogue that addresses the deeper sources of mistrust and hostility and at the same time focuses on the large and urgent security challenges facing both countries.
Humanity is a species whose very existence is premised uniquely upon our ability to generate, communicate and apply transformative ideas when confronted with crises induced either by nature or our own folly. It is only by activating this power now, when so many are driven to inaction by fear, ignorance and nihilism, that the basis for a positive future for all of us may yet be found.
Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow.