Foreign Policy & National Security

March 14, 2024: Stark Contrasts in Foreign Policy and Protection of Democracy

Posted on March 21, 2024 at 12:00 AM

By Cynthia Efird, Member, Foreign Policy and National Security Task Force

On March 11, the candidates for president of the United States participated in two contrasting events that forecast the kind of government and foreign policy we can expect over the next four years, depending on whom we elect. President Joseph Biden’s actions are in line with decades of U.S. leadership in preserving world order against aggressors; former President Donald Trump’s reflect out-of-date policies of isolationism and appeasement.

Addressing the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference in Philadelphia, Biden announced that he had been on the phone for more than an hour with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, informing him that the U.S. had just convinced the G7 nations (including the newest member Sweden) to impose more trade sanctions on Russia as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine. “We’ve stepped up pressure on corrupt Russian billionaires,” Biden said. “We’re increasing coordination among the G7 countries to target ... ill-gotten gains. … Credit-rating agencies have downgraded Russia’s government bonds to ‘junk’ status.” He summed up: “We are showing strength, and we’ll never falter.”

Meanwhile, candidate Trump welcomed the only NATO authoritarian ruler, Viktor Orban, at his Florida home. Orban is not welcome at the White House because he has curtailed human rights in his formerly democratic nation, brought the media under state control, and proved a warm friend of other autocrats, including Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China. None of this kept Trump from embracing Orban and welcoming his endorsement. Leaving Trump’s Mar-a-Lago country club, Orban exulted that Trump would “not give a penny in the Ukraine-Russian war.” The event prompted current U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman to call Orban’s comments “dangerously unhinged anti-American messaging” and proof of an “expanding relationship with Russia.” Trump’s pro-Russian bias was also on display when he said that he would encourage Putin to do “whatever the hell he wants” to NATO countries that he deems not fully paid up.

Never before has a major party’s candidate courted enemies of the United States during a run for president. In fact, the long-time rule was that “politics ended at the water’s edge.” All past candidates to lead the most powerful nation in the world avoided any comments or actions that could weaken U.S. foreign policy or encourage foreign meddling in the election process. Trump is a radical in his disregard for the U.S. image abroad and its ability to conduct reasonable and consistent foreign policy with its allies and partners.

The time-honored effort to present to the world a unified picture of American resolve does not mean that engaged Americans should not try to influence foreign policy decisions. We

see in the demonstrations in many cities in favor of increased aid and protection for Palestinians in Gaza the kind of American action that reflects our democratic principles and is hailed abroad as a measure of U.S. leadership.

While emphasizing Israel’s right to exist, the Administration has carefully increased the pressure for a cease-fire both in public and private. Israel has been put on notice by Democratic leaders — from Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s speech on the Senate floor to Vice President Kamala Harris’ remarks in Selma and on Snapchat (“Palestinians have a right to self-determination, they have a right to dignity, and we’re going to have to work on that.)” to comments by Biden himself. Biden has signaled a willingness to stop offensive weapons from going to Israel and has announced sanctions on two West Bank settlements because of “acts of violence against civilians,” according to the State Department. The Republicans have tried to exploit this inherently American participation in foreign policy decision-making, seeing it as weakness and not the strength and proof that the Biden Administration is both big and small “D” democratic.

Trump expressed his contrasting idea of how a country should conduct its affairs after his meeting with Orban. Trump commented, “There’s nobody that’s better, smarter, or a better leader than Viktor Orban. … He says, ‘This is the way it’s going to be,’ and that’s the end of it. Right? He’s the boss. No, he’s a great leader.”

The next election will put one of these candidates in charge of this country’s foreign policy and its future as a citizen-led democracy. I pray it will be the Democrat, Joseph Biden.

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