Foreign policy and national security are arcane disciplines, but with experience comes expertise. Or not.
President Biden has been engaged in international affairs throughout his long political career, including eight years as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Bob Gates, who served as secretary of defense in both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, wrote in 2014 that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
The late Charles Krauthammer had already observed that Biden “holds the American record for [being] wrong on the most issues in foreign affairs ever.” The late Sen. John McCain’s evaluation: “Biden has been consistently wrong on every national security issue that I’ve been involved in in the last 20 years or so.”
Since moving to the White House, Biden has reinforced those judgments. His foreign policy has been based on wishful thinking—on seeing the world not as it is but as he’d like it to be.
Examples? He turned Afghanistan over to the Taliban—in the most humiliating way imaginable—and then proclaimed “mission accomplished.” He insisted that Russian President Vladimir Putin, if not provoked but only cautioned about possible economic sanctions, would refrain from armed aggression. He continues to claim that Iran’s rulers will give up their nuclear weapons program in exchange for a fistful of dollars.
Now consider Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, the first minority female governor in American history. She had zero experience in foreign affairs when former President Donald Trump appointed her U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
But she’s a fast learner who soon proved to be an extraordinarily adept advocate for truth, justice and the American way. Four years ago, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, my think tank, presented her with its Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Statesmanship Award.
Last week, at the Policy Exchange think tank in London, Haley gave a speech titled, “Winning the Clash of Civilizations.” She laid out the threats facing America and its allies, explained what’s wrong with the current administration’s response, and outlined how we can—indeed, how we must—defend Western interests and values.
She began by reflecting on “the worst war in Europe since the Second World War.” A “total failure of deterrence” by America and Europe encouraged Putin to believe that the time was ripe to make Russia a great empire again.
She dismissed as “nonsense,” the view that “NATO expansion prompted Russian aggression.”
“Putin and his cronies are neither dumb nor delusional,” she pointed out. “They knew full well that Ukraine was never on the verge of NATO membership. And they know full well that Russia has nothing to fear from the Baltic countries or Poland.”
Putin also took note of what Haley called “America’s surrender in Afghanistan last summer,” the West’s “failure to effectively challenge the Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014,” the lack of an adequate response to “Russian barbarism in Syria” and its “use of a chemical weapon right here on British soil in Salisbury in 2018—same thing. There were a few sanctions and expulsions, but not enough to shake Putin’s resolve.”
The larger lesson: “Appeasement never satisfies the appetites of tyrants. It only makes them want more. Trying to be ‘inoffensive’ only emboldens our enemies.”
The danger Putin poses, not just to Ukraine but to all Russia’s neighbors and to what remains of the battered American-led international order, is compounded by his burgeoning alliance with China’s ruler, Xi Jinping. A 5,000-word manifesto signed on Feb. 4 states explicitly that, henceforth, their relations are to have “no limits, and no forbidden areas of cooperation.”
As different as they are, neo-imperialist Russia and neo-Maoist China are “united by their fanatical opposition to Western interests and values. And they are increasingly expansionist in their territorial aims.”
Iran’s theocrats, too, have hitched their wagon to Putin (despite his crimes against Muslims within the Russian Federation) and Xi (despite his genocide of the Muslims of Xinjiang) because they have their “own ambitions for regional dominance and the destruction of free nations.”
To address these growing threats, Haley said, requires “a fundamental shift in how the West approaches our enemies.”
That shift would begin with the recognition that we were wrong to believe that if we were only “nice to Russia and China they would want to be more like us.”
“That is the height of narcissism,” she told her audience. “Along with the Iranians, they are committed to ideologies that are incompatible with our freedom and security.”
Our militaries—especially those of most European nations—are not all they need to be given current realities. It is essential that Europe break its addiction to Russian oil and gas. Disentangling from strategic supply chains anchored in China also should be on our to-do list.
However, she continued, these steps will be insufficient if we don’t “regain our belief that the Western way is worth defending.”
The West is not without its faults and failures. No civilization is. No civilization ever has been. But only the West offers a path to “peace and prosperity. Free speech. Free enterprise. Freedom to choose our own leaders. Freedom from the tyranny of overreaching government. When we place those values up against those of our enemies, there is no contest,” she said.
Haley concluded that “in this clash of civilizations, we know how to win. We simply must have the resolve to do it.”
Our leaders, in Washington and other Western capitals, ought to be fostering such resolve. Apparently, they’re not up to the task. It is the responsibility of voters in free nations to recognize that reality and change it.
Clifford D. May is the founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.