In this discourse we turn our attention to foreign policy. While most policy topics are understandably focused on domestic issues, our foreign policy is an extremely important part of presidential and party politics.

I have stated in an earlier entry that I am a pacifist. This is not a mainstream view in the United States. It is more common to have a discussion about whether or not a particular armed conflict meets a definition of a ‘just war’ than it is to start from a position of war is evil and at best is a measure of last resort. My foreign policy views do influence my voting, though I have never cast a meaningful vote for a pacifist in a presidential election or primary. I have not had the chance to do so (Howard Dean dropped out of the race in 2004 before Pennsylvania’s primary, and Bernie Sanders was already basically defeated in 2016 and 2020 before Pennsylvania’s primary).

One thing my pacifism does not mean is that I oppose members of the military. I do believe that in our world our country needs to have a military that is ready and able to defend our borders from aggressors. Would I rather our world not have armies and missiles and machine guns? Yes, but I am a realist. In all of human history, passive and defenseless nations and tribes have been conquered by more militant groups.

When is military action the appropriate response? Looking back at history, we could point to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and 9/11 as two moments where our nation was attacked directly and no other response was logical. We were already active in World War II before Pearl Harbor on the side of the Allies, but had not entered into armed conflict. Once Japan attacked the United States, the United States was at war, whether we wanted to be or not. Similarly, once the 19 hijackers attacked using the four airplanes, the United States was at war, whether we wanted to be or not. The War on Terror in Afghanistan was different from World War II in the sense that the opposing forces were not ‘regular’ military, but soon after 9/11 we sought out the terrorist network that launched the attacks.

Another military action that could be considered an example of being defensive in nature would be our involvement in the Gulf War. Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened to continue aggressive actions. Our response was to set up a defensive position to curtail further aggression, and then, when Iraq refused to leave Kuwait, to attack to liberate the occupied country. This was clearly not the first response, it was not knee-jerk. It was after diplomacy and deterrence had not succeeded in reversing the Iraqi aggression.

My view is that these three conflicts are examples of defensive military action. While I still do not like war nor do I prefer it to ever occur, I support the United States’ involvement in these conflicts.

Some other military actions that the United States has taken were not defensive, in my opinion. The biggest example during my lifetime is the invasion of Iraq. For those that knew me in 2001, I was already appalled at some of the rhetoric after 9/11. Just a few hours after the attacks, someone told me we should “Nuke them all”. When I asked who he was referring to, he responded “All the Muslims”. That view is appalling to me, and there were many examples of that sort of Islamophobia expressed at that time. As I stated above, the United States went after al-Qaeda and their protectors, the Taliban, in Afghanistan. However, President Bush quickly started talking about Iraq as well. When it came to a vote in 2003, a supermajority of both the House of Representatives and the Senate authorized the invasion of Iraq. Almost all Republicans supported the invasion and nearly half of Democrats did as well. Some of the reasoning given for the invasion of Iraq was mistaken, and some of it were lies. The United States has spent many years and dollars, and much blood, both of Americans and Iraqis, including thousands of civilians, because of this invasion.

One of the customary justifications of the United States military action offensively is to ‘spread democracy’. While it is true that in some cases we have overthrown dictators and authoritarians and installed or restored a democratic system (Panama, Iraq, Libya, Haiti), we also have overthrown democratically elected leaders, sometimes installing dictators and authoritarians (Iran, Burkino Faso, Grenada, Nicaragua, Chad, Chile, Bolivia). The United States does not even pretend to be consistent in our application of military action. If we were consistent, we would either be in many more conflicts or much fewer. Why were we engaged in the Balkans in the 1990s (Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo) and not in Central Africa (Rwanda, Uganda, Congo)? Why were we involved in civil wars in Syria and Yemen and, after deposing Muammar Gaddafi, not involved in the civil war in Libya? Why did we oppose democratically elected leaders of other countries when our rhetoric is that democracy is the pinnacle of government form?

So what does that mean for the 2020 election? In some ways, not much. President Trump has not entered any new wars and has continued the pullback of military action that President Obama undertook. Maybe we as a nation are getting more isolationist in general. That may be a good thing, since we have enough problems in our own country. However, foreign policy goes well beyond military action. If we consider diplomacy, alliance building, and foreign aid, more of a distinction emerges.

Currently, it seems like our friends are our enemies and our enemies are our friends. The democratically elected leaders of Canada, Germany, and France (for example) are treated more harshly than the authoritarian leaders of Turkey, North Korea, and Russia. Multiple books have been written about this pattern, and it is troubling. That is a major reason why many people with extensive foreign policy experience and are conservative in their other policy views have been adamantly rejecting President Trump. We also have curtailed foreign aid for many countries and that has a significantly negative impact on those countries. The abandonment of multiple treaties and international organizations (like the WHO, in the middle of a global pandemic) is a further example of what I view as disastrous foreign policy.

I do not have a strongly positive view of the foreign policy of candidate Biden. As I am not in the mainstream on this issue, that is not surprising to me. But I do not think he would have pulled out of the WHO, nor opened the door for Turkey to invade Syria. He would not have abandoned the Iran nuclear deal. And maybe he would treat our allies better than President Trump has.

Below is a sampling of my opinion on a few foreign policy items:

Russia has annexed a part of Ukraine (Crimea). How have we opposed that aggressive action? Some economic sanctions? Using our history in Kuwait as a guide, you could argue that we should be advocating for Russia’s withdraw and threatening military action if they do not. But we are not doing that. Part of that is because Russia’s military capability is similar to ours. We could at least use tougher rhetoric. The United States currently appears to be weak on Russia.

In China, there are vast concentration (I’m sorry…re-education) camps of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other Muslims as well as Christians. And the United States has not said much to oppose this practice. This persecution and human rights abuse should be vehemently opposed. Of course, China could rightly deride us as hypocritical due to the actions of ICE.

The civil war in Yemen is probably the situation that bothers me the most. There are two groups that have competing claims to be the government. Saudi Arabia, with the backing of the United States and others, have brutalized much of their southern neighbor. The humanitarian crisis is unimaginable. If we sent food not weapons, could we make a positive impact? It is time to find out.

As mentioned before, Turkey invaded Syria and the United States basically said, “Don’t do that. Oh well, we understand why you did”. They specifically targeted the Kurds, a state-less ally of the United States for decades and a largely ‘Christian’ group (not Muslim). The Kurds, along with Russia, Iran, and the United States, fought against the common enemy of the Islamic State. And then we abandoned them. I wonder how many other nations and groups are now more wary of alliances with the United States.

The final example I will give is another state-less group, Palestinians. The United States has been a staunch supporter of Israel since statehood was achieved. For decades a two-state solution has been cyclically advocated for and then rejected by successive administrations in the United States. Simply put, we have stood aside while Israel uses weapons purchased from us and economically crushes their neighbors in a blockade. You can validly argue that Jews have claim to land. You can also validly argue that Palestinians have claim to land. That’s why the two-state solution is the way forward. If you want to argue that only Jews have claim to land, then I will apply that to the United States. Everyone that is not Native American, please raise your hand. Now…get out. (That means I better find a new home in England, Ireland, or Germany). Anything other than a two-state solution seems ridiculous when you really think through it.

I recognize that the Arab nations attacked Israel in 1948. I know that we westerners have a blood guilt from the Holocaust. I know that the Bible talks about Israel being installed in its ‘Promised Land’. And I believe God will restore Israel. But I don’t think it will be by the United States or other nations oppressing Palestinians. Christians are called by Jesus to be children of light and peacemakers and full of love: war and oppression are not compatible with following Jesus. Christianity has oppressed many people throughout history, but we can do better, we can be better.

Thank you for reading.