Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik

A vicious politicization of everything

The upcoming US presidential elections and their foreign policy implications
A vicious politicization of everything

By Elisabeth Zerofsky

Earlier this year, a prominent conservative writer in the US prompted an outpouring of rage and sympathy from his readers with a long reportage, published in a new journal that has become influential on the American right [1]. In the story, the writer warned that a “Christian nation,” that had been the victim of “modern genocide,” faced “extinction in a territory stippled by their churches and crosses.” This nation-state, he wrote, “risks being downgraded to a rump state,” due not to “ancient, mythical hatreds, not initially, at any rate,” but rather from a dispute whose “origins lie in the rise of modern nationalism amid the breakup of one imperial order—and the birth of a new one.”

The writer was not referring to Ukraine, but rather to Armenia. As for Ukraine, that conflict, according to him, was being morally oversimplified by liberal Washington. Vladimir Putin should be given concessions, so as not to overly provoke him, and the general backlash against all things Russian in America was silly.

This kind of doublethink will unfortunately not be terribly surprising to anyone who has been paying attention to US politics over the last few years. A vicious politicization of everything has prevented the country from reaching coherence (forget about consensus) in its response to multiple crises. As with Covid, the Russian war in Ukraine seems poised to become another casualty in the 2024 presidential election campaign. The facts about Ukraine will, tragically, be largely irrelevant, as the debate between the two sides in the U.S. is, at this point, purely about power – who knows best, and who gets to make decisions.

If liberals or Democrats are in favor of something, you can be certain that Republicans will be against it.

These public relations battles do obscure some more complicated dynamics. Notably, in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the years-long war in the eastern part of the country, the Obama administration declined to send lethal aid to Ukraine. It was the Trump administration that reversed course, sending $47 million worth of lethal weapons (although Trump was impeached the first time, in 2019, for withholding that aid in order to gain campaign favors). There is an old guard among the Republican Party that still sees Russian imperialism as a threat: Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, for all the damage that he has done over the last years to the rule of law in the United States, made a speech in February, on the anniversary of the war, in which he encouraged his colleagues to “wak[e] up from our holiday from history.” That was in response to calls from Republicans to scale back US aid to Ukraine, or end it altogether. The Republican Party has continued to radicalize over the last few years, and it seems difficult to foresee how that will change. Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host who is said to have a great deal of influence over the party, recently falsely told his 3.5 million viewers, based on faked intelligence documents, that “seven Ukrainians are being killed for every Russian.” Those who would claim “America First,” sadly, care little about creating a world in which American values flourish.

There are important shifts happening in Europe, too. Poland has emerged since the beginning of the war as a new force in European defense and foreign policy, a role that may increase proportionately to its military, which is slated to become the most powerful land force in Europe in 5 to 10 years. There are Polish parliamentary elections this fall, which could see a change in government in Warsaw, with a new administration that would be friendlier to the German government. Or, if the current Polish government wins reelection, it could find itself faced with a Republican US administration in 2024 that it gets along with better politically and ideologically, but disagrees with on Russia policy. These are all potentially consequential rearrangements.

Some members of the Republican Party argue that the US is spreading itself too thin and should focus on China as the greater adversary. Perhaps this is a way to still appear strong to their voters, while opposing what the Democrats are doing, but the Biden administration is correct to treat Russia and China as related pieces of a greater challenge. From a European vantage point, the only predictable certainty is that the realities that we rely on today cannot be counted on for tomorrow.

Elisabeth Zerofsky is a journalist and Contributing Writer at the New York Times Magazine, based in Berlin. She writes frequently about European and American politics and society.

[1]  Armenia’s Race for Survival – Sohrab Amari, Compact, December 22, 2022

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