Mon, Jun 11, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Walter Lohman on Taiwan: The fundamentals of US foreign policy

In a time of so much political change and uncertainty, it makes good sense to take stock of some enduring features of US foreign policy. Failure to do this, given the size and power of the United States, could lead to critical misunderstandings, and potentially conflict.

First, the United States is a democracy. It is a simple statement, but one with profound implication for the way the American government conducts itself internationally. With Congressional elections every two years and Presidential elections every four, there is always a degree of uncertainty in American foreign policy. When one party consolidates command of both branches, policy is more predictable, but this is never a permanent condition. Consequently, it behooves our friends and partners, and even our adversaries, to better understand where the political trend lines are pointing.

There is a positive side to this dynamic, too. Of course, depending on your perspective, sometimes change is good. Any particular Congress or administration may change things to your liking. On the other hand, if you don’t like the change, you need only hold on for another two to four years.

Second, the US has very strong institutions. Democratic change in American foreign policy is bracketed by institutional equities, and any change in policy, even in an era of disruption, is marginal in the short term and evolutionary in the longer term. How else to explain a China policy that has remained essentially unchanged for over nine presidencies? Or the American commitment to a forward deployed military almost 30 years after the end of the Cold War? Similarly in an area like trade policy, where there seems to be so much disruption, there are forces, in Congress, in the business community, in the bureaucracy, in the White House, in our alliances, pushing back. Whether the world will wait for us to work this out is another question, but one thing is certain: When all is said and done, there will be less change than proponents of it promise.

When we think about foreign policy institutions, we are accustomed to thinking almost exclusively about the executive branch. But Congress is another. In fact, Congress often acts as storehouse of American interests. Take the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), for example. Consider how the faces of Taiwan’s friends have changed since 1979, from Goldwater, Dole, Zablocki and Wolff to Royce, Gardner, Rubio, and Cruz. Yet, the TRA is alive and well. Recall the spark that led to its creation: bi-partisan outrage over Carter’s disregard for Congressional input and his half-hearted approach to continued relations with Taiwan. Remember the pro-ROC stalwarts that predate the TRA, members of what was once called the “China-lobby,” and people like America’s great “missionary for freedom,” Walter Judd.

Third, US foreign policy cannot but focus on human rights. There may have been a time where specific concerns about the conduct of allied governments were subsumed by the cause of defeating global communist tyranny. But that has not been the case now for several decades. Today, there is no equivalent strategic objective to justify turning a blind eye to abuses.

There is a false narrative out there that the Trump administration is turning away from this American commitment to liberty. There is an extraordinary amount of evidence to contradict it, but take one of the most recent, Secretary of State Pompeo’s remarks at the release of his department’s annual report on international religious freedom. “Religious freedom,” he said on May 29, “is not only ours. It is a right belonging to every individual on the globe. President Trump stands with those who yearn for religious liberty. Our Vice President stands with them, and so do I.”

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