President Trump’s State of the Union address last week covered a litany of topics, as these speeches usually do. Some he discussed truthfully, others not entirely (NPR fact-checked the entire speech here).
Republicans gave their fair share of standing ovations when the president decried new abortion legislation in Virginia and New York, criticized “partisan investigations” and said “I will get it built” in regard to his Southern border wall.
Surprisingly, Trump made attempts at bipartisanship as well. He alluded to plans for paid family leave, infrastructure spending and asking Congress for $500 million in funding for childhood cancer research over the next decade.
Despite that hint of a rosy look forward, President Trump’s omission of our European allies and anything substantive about Russia and China’s ambitions paints a dangerous picture for the future of American foreign policy.
As it stands, the Trump administration’s actions have created a pattern of mistrust with our allies. These actions include pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iran Nuclear Deal, as well as hostilities toward the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Letting Russia and China’s authoritarian systems spread their influence threatens to reshape the global order and delegitimize democracy around the world. If no effort is made by the people in government to better relations with our allies, global diplomacy will join climate change in the club of “Issues for the Next Generation to Deal With.”
Since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia has continued to take actions that pose indirect risks to our alliance with Europe. Its support of President Bashar Al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War endangers civilian lives.
This civilian threat has displaced over 13 million people, one million of whom have resettled in Europe. In turn, an increasingly nationalist, anti-immigrant and far-right sentiment has been growing across Europe. The Trump administration has turned the U.S. inward with its “America First” approach that plays on similar sentiments. If more European countries use the same strategy and turn inward themselves, our alliances with Europe could be jeopardized.
In addition, Russia’s poisoning of a former spy in the U.K. shows that Russian President Vladimir Putin has no qualms with brutally enforcing his authoritarian agenda beyond the bounds of his country’s borders.
China’s threat is different than Russia’s, but it is no less present. Rather than make militaristic gestures around the world, China wants to expand its economic influence.
“The world needs China, as all humans are living in a community with a shared future,” the Communist Party said in early 2018. “That creates broad strategic room for our efforts to uphold peace and development and gain an advantage.”
The country’s Belt and Road initiative encapsulates this desire for influence. The plan involves building new ports, pipelines and railroads throughout Asia and Africa. It will cost $1 trillion and involve 70 countries.
China operates under a political system in which the government is the be-all and end-all. The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, will likely rule until his death, since lawmakers in China changed the country’s constitution last year to end presidential term limits.
China doesn’t stand for the same things that our country does. If we stay focused on ourselves, as we have under the Trump administration, China will go uncontested in spreading its authoritarian influence and attempting to reshape the world order.
The U.S. is a powerful country, but we can’t stand alone against both Russia and China, especially as China continues to occupy more of the world economy.
The way we stand for our democratic values is with international leadership and strong relationships with our European allies who stand for the same things we do. We cannot leave them and question these bonds because it’s politically expedient.
Abandoning Europe now has the potential to shape how the world will look for the next generation. We need to move past domestic polarization and consider how our actions affect the world at large.