Editorial | Avoiding the new Cold War
Pat Buchanan, the conservative Republican politician is not someone that this newspaper readily looks to for advice or guidance on American policy. Mr Buchanan is one of the key architects of today’s dysfunction in US politics, and in many ways, helped pave the way for the emergence of Donald Trump and his ilk.
Yet, Pat Buchanan’s recent observations about America’s foreign policy, or a philosophy thereof, is one we, in an act of pragmatism, recommend to the current US president, Joe Biden, the Democrat who recently completed the first six months of his four-year term. Mr Buchanan’s argument was in favour of ideological co-existence.
We raise the issue out of concern that despite his avuncular and grandfatherly demeanour, Mr Biden, on his current trajectory, will be the instigator of a new Cold War. That would be bad for Jamaica and the other members of the Caribbean Community, which had hoped that the Biden presidency, after Mr Trump’s irrational volatility, would be a harbinger of global stability and a start to the fashioning of the international order in which the interests of small countries, like those in the Caribbean, have a genuine place at the table.
America’s primary opponent in this fledgling power contest is not Russia, but China, the emerging global power, which Mr Biden has vowed to contain. In this respect, Mr Biden’s stance as president is sharply different from the one he assumed when he was campaigning for the job. Then, his sternest foreign policy critiques were reserved for Russia over its reported cyber-interference in American elections and Mr Trump’s cosying up to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.
Mr Biden criticised Mr Trump’s trade war with China, suggesting that it was to the detriment of US exporters, and rejected the idea, floated by Mr Trump, that American was in danger of having its economic lunch eaten by an ascendant China, which was not playing by global trade rules. Mr Biden proposed cooperation between the two countries.
TOUGHENED TRADE TARIFFS
Since coming to office, President Biden has not only maintained Donald Trump’s trade tariffs and other sanctions on China, but in several instances, has toughened them. He has restricted hundreds of Chinese students, who are said to have connections with the Chinese Communist Party and the military, from studying in the United States and placed roadblocks in the way of Chinese firms acquiring American assets. A ban has also been placed on the sale of some critical technology to China.
America’s anti-China rhetoric has also become more strident. Washington has accused Beijing of genocide against Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province and pushed its G7 and NATO partners, even if reluctantly, to embrace the idea of China as the new global security threat to the West. Mr Biden has framed China and Russia as the antagonists in a contest between democracy and authoritarian and autocratic regimes, represented by both countries. But as the primary country in America’s sights, China would not be allowed to win.
At a March news conference, Mr Biden said of China: “They have an overall goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world. That’s not gonna happen on my watch.”
Closer to home, too, ideology is also in play. Although as Barack Obama’s vice-president Mr Biden had a role in America’s re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, he has not reversed, as promised, Mr Trump’s retightening of the few economic sanctions against Havana that were eased by the Obama administration. It is now highly questionable that it will happen, given Mr Biden’s imposition of sanctions against several Cuban officials after recent demonstrations in Havana against Cuba’s communist government.
Herein lies the relevance of Pat Buchanan’s observations about US geopolitical relationships. The foundation of Mr Buchanan’s intervention was a speech by John F. Kennedy in the early aftermath of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. As Mr Buchanan reminded us, President Kennedy told Americans that if the East-West rivals could not “end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity”. President Kennedy recognised that the United States could not ”remake the world simply by our own command”.
“Kennedy was willing to put our political model on offer to the world, but not to impose it on anyone,” Mr Buchanan noted in his blog post. President Kennedy recognised that the United States, at various points in its history, was willing to work with countries of myriad ideologies to advance common interests.
Should Mr Biden’s posture evolve into a new campaign that pits, as he sees it, “democracy and liberalism over fascism and autocracy”, there is grave danger that the issues of concern for countries like ours won’t find a place on the global agenda.