Overseas Stagnation*

*Editor’s note: On March 4, 2022, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.

Americanist Egor Toropov — On why we shouldn’t expect any changes in U.S. foreign policy after the presidential election.

Joseph Biden and Donald Trump — the 45th and 46th presidents of the United States, who once more plan to occupy the White House until 2029 — present their foreign policy plans as drastically different views of the U.S.’ role in the world. The rhetoric of Biden and Trump perfectly fits globalism and isolationism, respectively: If the sitting president underlines the significance of the U.S. as the guarantor of rights and the guardian of personal freedoms for the world, the former president stands by his self-explanatory principle of “America First.”

Nonetheless, the widespread understanding of the foreign policy intentions of Biden and Trump, reinforced by their own rhetoric, contradicts the real state of things. Biden, for example, withdrew the U.S. from Afghanistan for good, against the recommendations of the highest military command, stating in a principled and idealistic manner that he wouldn’t pass the war in Afghanistan to a fifth president (the U.S. had been controlling Afghanistan throughout the leadership of four presidents). When Biden was the vice president under Barack Obama, he was the only one in his entourage who tried to convince the leader not to increase the American contingent in Iraq.

Trump, at the same time, not only abstained from withdrawing the U.S. from Afghanistan but also practically abandoned the idea altogether in his recent interview by calling it a “negotiation tactic” under the influence of the public reaction to his regular hints that it’s possible that the U.S. could leave NATO. Moreover, he stated that “NATO became strong because of me.”

Real life, as such, goes far beyond theoretical deliberations and the most audacious political rhetoric. Even though the institution of the American presidency presupposes the real rather than ceremonial role of the U.S. leader as both “head of state” and “head of government,” even the first person in the U.S. political hierarchy is far from omnipotent in their prerogative to determine the course of foreign policy.

Rhetorical intentions and the real actions of political actors within the framework of the American system of checks and balances continue to clash against domestic political financial restrictions and ideological discrepancies today. All that, even though the growing isolationist public consensus has characterized the last 20 years of U.S. political discourse — first of all, as a response to the U.S. war in Iraq, which quickly became unpopular. Initially, it enjoyed approval against the backdrop of the actualization of the terrorist threat in the early 2000s.

For almost half a year, Democrat Biden hasn’t been able to reach an agreement with the speaker of the lower chamber of Congress, the House of Representatives Rep. Mike Johnson, about allocating funds for several key foreign policy priorities for the current president. Johnson, being the third-most important person in the country, according to the Constitution, is practically single-handedly blocking the financing package of $95 billion — approved by a two-party majority in the Senate, the upper chamber of Congress, controlled by Democrats.

Johnson, controlling only the lower chamber of Congress, successfully opposes not only the entire executive branch of the government, headed by the president, and the Senate, which has already approved the funding for Biden’s foreign policy initiatives, but also the will of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives. Considering that the Republicans [in the House] only slightly outnumber the Democrats, and the fact that quite a number of Republican senators support Biden’s foreign policy course, there’s no doubt that as soon as Johnson puts the $95 billion financial package to a vote it will be immediately approved by the majority of the members of Congress, especially by the Republicans elected in the states of New York and California, which are politically challenging for them. And then it would be signed by the president.

Trump is also working against Biden’s foreign policy — as a candidate to become the 47th president of the U.S. Not holding any political position at the moment, he nonetheless successfully pressures some current Republican legislators, including Speaker Johnson. Within the House of Representatives, the threat of Trump endorsing a congressional candidate during the election instead of the one currently in office is especially relevant because every member of the House has to be reelected once every two years, while senators are much more protected from matters of political conformity by their six-year terms.

The mechanics of the American political system and the reality of the domestic policy discourse, considering that any president, with high probability, won’t have full control over the U.S. Congress (in 2025, the Senate will most likely be passed from the Democrats to the Republicans, and the House of Representatives will have the opposite transition), leads us to conclude that there won’t be a radical change in the course of U.S. foreign policy as long as its foreign policy is defined by its domestic policy.

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About Artem Belov 83 Articles
Artem Belov is a TESOL-certified English teacher and a freelance translator (Russian>English and English>Russian) based in Australia but currently traveling abroad. He is working on a number of projects, including game localization. You can reach him at belov.g.artem@gmail.com

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