It has been a bad week for US foreign policy. The divide between the Democrats and the Republicans, and the splits within the Republican Party, have led to political paralysis on Capitol Hill.
If it was a bad week for Congress, it was particularly bad for the American people and the nation’s partners around the world. The southern border of the US remains unsecured, and no additional funding has been approved for Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russia and Iran continue to test the resolve of the US and its partners around the globe. At least three US soldiers have been killed and more than 100 wounded as a result of more than 200 attacks by Iranian and Iranian-backed militias.
The Houthis in Yemen continue to disrupt commercial shipping in the Red Sea. President Joe Biden’s response has been to launch limited, expensive and seemingly ineffective air strikes that were advertised days in advance. Until the US acts decisively, American troops and international shipping will continue to face attacks. There is no indication that Biden will take a tougher stance.
As for the US Congress, there is no better example of its ineptitude than the issue of American support for Ukraine. Listening to some members of Congress, one would think America is emptying its state coffers to fund Ukraine. In reality, as a percentage of gross domestic product, the US ranks 30th in the world in terms of aid to Ukraine. The last time Congress approved any aid for the country was December 2022 — more than 400 days ago.
As a result of the inability of Congress to pass additional funding, there are reports that Ukrainians are now rationing ammunition. Consequently, Russia is starting to make some advances on the frontlines in some places.
Viewing the matter strictly from a US point of view, any objective person can see that helping Ukraine is in America’s national interest. Russia is one of its main adversaries. Europe, which is being destabilized as a result of the invasion of Ukraine, is one of its most important economic partners.
Without a single American soldier pulling a trigger or getting shot at, the US can provide support for an important European partner while delivering a geopolitical blow to one of its leading rivals. At the same time, supporting Ukraine can help deter other adversaries in regions around the world.
Even when considering these obvious advantages to the US of support for Ukraine, there are some in Congress who choose to put political pettiness ahead of policy and are doing their best to block further assistance. They essentially are willing to sell out America’s partners in Ukraine for the sake of domestic political squabbles in Washington. This sends a horrible message to friends and foes alike.
No doubt America’s partners and friends are watching this drama unfold. If they are not paying attention to what is happening in Washington, they should be. Considering the lack of support for Ukraine, if you were a US partner in a dangerous neighborhood, it would not be unreasonable to wonder whether you could be the next to be sold out. For example, can Taiwan, Japan and South Korea really depend on Congress to support them during a time of conflict in East Asia?
In the US system of government, foreign policy is mostly the responsibility of the White House. However, Congress is the branch of government that provides the funding for the executive branch to function. Without congressional support, White House foreign policy does not function well. This, in part, is the problem being faced today.
The political situation in the US does not look likely to improve anytime soon. Therefore, American foreign policy will continue to suffer. It remains to be seen how foreign affairs will affect the US presidential election campaign this year, if at all.
Most American voters are driven to the polls on “bread-and-butter” domestic issues such as the economy, the state of the job market, and access to affordable healthcare. Unless America is directly involved in a war, foreign policy rarely plays a prominent role in US elections. Therefore, there is unlikely to be a grassroots drive to change the current foreign policy approach taken by Congress or the White House.
In fact, the possibility of any meaningful change for the better in terms of foreign policy is bleak for the coming years. Not only should this be a concern for the American people but also America’s partners.
It is time for members of Congress to stop playing political games and start reaching across the aisle and working together to find a way forward to reestablish America’s reputation and role in the world. The nation’s friends, partners, and allies are watching events closely and wondering what the future holds in store. Meanwhile, adversaries can sense weakness, indecisiveness and divisions, not only within the US political establishment but also among the American people.
This gridlock in US foreign policy comes at a dangerous time in global affairs. The inability of the US to develop serious foreign policy has had disastrous, and at times deadly, consequences for Americans and the country’s partners.
It is not too late to get US foreign policy back on track. However, it will require political compromise and consensus of the kind the American political system has not seen in years. But if the US wants to be a serious force on the global stage, things must change.