We’ve all seen the photos of Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin sitting at Yalta holding together the tenuous partnership that would bring Hitler’s reign of darkness to an end. The air of cooperation wouldn’t last as the significant differences in objectives and ideologies between the Western powers and the Soviet Communist regime drove a wedge between them that would usher in a half-century of Cold War.
It was a perilous time. But that global paradigm would lead to unprecedented growth in personal and economic freedom around the world, with the United States leading a community of free nations against brutal authoritarianism.
Today, the COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a tipping point that puts the United States back on that post-World War II footing. We shouldn’t be afraid of a new Cold War.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the bipolar global construct has collapsed into a murky soup of economic alliances that have made the Western democracies weaker, less focused, and often playing into the hands of authoritarian competitors seeking to expand their power.
We believed that opening China would produce a stronger level of trust, cooperation, and liberalization. It was a logical assumption. Instead, the Chinese learned from the Soviet Union’s economic failures, putting their espionage, propaganda, and brazen efforts to flout international law on steroids. China’s disregard for basic human rights remains chilling. The regime’s deceit with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic is emblematic of all of those characteristics.
We genuinely wanted the Russian experiment in democracy to succeed. It hasn’t and we need to accept that. That failure isn’t due to the Russian people but rather their leaders’ unshakable belief in an imperial destiny and fidelity to governing tactics reminiscent of the Stalinist control of decades past. Just as we’ve created an environment that lets China steal our jobs and technology, we’ve allowed Russia to use its vast energy resources to blackmail Europe.
For decades we failed to make Iran pay for financing global Islamic terrorist networks that have taken countless innocent lives and destabilized countries around the world. The Obama Administration’s capitulation to the mullahs was perhaps the lowest point in American foreign policy of the last half-century.
The troika of China, Russia, and Iran represent a significant and present threat to the safety and security of the free world. That requires an aggressive response.
While Islamic terrorists occupied our focus in the early 2000s, Russia was expanding its influence in the former Soviet republics and later the Middle East. The Chinese, through their Belt and Road Initiative, have set about conquering Africa. The three are also making inroads in the Western Hemisphere as well, including information manipulation that reaches the eyes and ears of Americans every day.
Many on the Left foolishly believe the world can and will be like that 1970s-era Coca-Cola commercial with all races and nations joining hands and singing together. The world is not the Olympics. It is driven by agendas.
The concept of a truly global cooperative is naïve. Nations such as Russia, China, and Iran have a different view of foreign affairs. They have a strikingly different concept of government, human rights, and freedom and they’re willing to manipulate new, smaller actors to help advance that agenda.
We need to be comfortable again with the old idea that not every country is our friend, that real enemies exist, and that state actors like China, Russia, and Iran will act with insidious intent to damage the United States. Having an economic, military, and diplomatic counterposture is absolutely critical.
From 1960-1975, the United States threatened or imposed economic sanctions more than 25 times, not counting U.S. support for U.N. sanctions against South Africa and other nations. We invested in the developing world to provide an incentive for those nations to align with the West. The Cold War promoted enterprise-based, free-market capitalism that strengthened our democratic allies. The military effort led to significant technological advancements.
Redrawing the lines of engagement now would mean igniting the ability of the United States and Western economies again to consolidate economic power. The economic opportunity for American and European countries for freezing out Huawei is enormous. Increasing American liquified natural gas exports could also serve to counter Russian energy blackmail.
A new Cold War means creating new trading blocs and incentives to dissuade free nations from supporting authoritarian competitors. It means governments making the tough decision to economically marginalize these regimes. Such a move may increase consumer prices but can lead to a restoration of millions of American jobs, economic growth in the developing world, and protecting superior Western innovation from piracy.
During the Cold War, a vast majority of Americans understood that it was important for the United States and its allies to counter communism. We cannot allow the moral relativism of the Left in America today make us timid in the face of real threats to our security and individual liberty, not to mention sovereignty of other nations.
Sure, there was debate and protest over disarmament and détente. Of course, there were those who were opposed our strong anti-Communist stance and Ronald Reagan’s “We win, they lose” posture, and many who railed against the so-called military-industrial complex.
Today, empowered by the media and digital platforms, those forces clearly have a strong voice. Nonetheless, America’s destiny is—as it has always been—to be a beacon of freedom and prevent the human race from being dominated by authoritarianism that saps the soul of the individual, devalues life, and prevents human advancement for the sake of ruling elites.
Those who today fancy themselves experts in the media will say we can’t shift our posture in such a fashion. They’ll say we can’t decouple our economy from China, or Europe from Russia’s energy resources. They’ll charge that the world has changed too much in the last quarter-century to revert to a bipolar construct.
We would do well to remember our history. In the past century, hundreds of thousands of Americans died fighting the Germans, only to see Germany become one of our staunchest allies. We used the atomic bomb to obliterate two Japanese cities, yet today Japan is one of our closest trading partners.
A new Cold War-style approach to China, Russia, and Iran is a call for America reconstituting the strong allied bloc it once led and rejecting the free-for-all globalist movement that turns a blind eye to enemies allegedly for the sake of cheap products.
America first needs to mean America leads again.
COVID-19 can indeed reset the world order placing us in the familiar position of making bold moves to protect freedom. What remains to be seen is whether we have the courage to lead again.