What Should Drive Biden’s Foreign Policy?Breaking News
tags: Cold War, foreign policy, Vietnam, liberalism, Democratic Party, Hubert Humphrey
In May 1950, Hubert Humphrey, the firebrand liberal from Minnesota, took to the floor of the Senate to call for passage of a fair employment practices commission to root out systematic racial discrimination in hiring. “So long as men and women and children of color are discriminated against in the United States,” Senator Humphrey insisted, “the colored people of the world have the right to suspect our professed friendship for them.”
Figures like Humphrey, who came to be known as “Cold War liberals,” argued that the struggle against Soviet totalitarianism could be won only if the United States proved that democracies could deliver social justice more effectively than communism could. In the course of researching a book on Humphrey, I have been struck by how absolutely central this claim was not only to him but also to others, including the historian Arthur Schlesinger, the author of “The Vital Center”; the labor leader Walter Reuther; and the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, founders, along with Humphrey, of Americans for Democratic Action, the leading advocacy body for anti-communist liberals.
President Biden grew up in the world of liberal anti-communism, which stretched from the end of World War II to the early stages of the Vietnam War. We should not be surprised that he has turned back to that moment, and to that language, at a time when democracy once again seems threatened by authoritarianism. “The triumph of democracy and liberalism over fascism and autocracy created the free world,” Mr. Biden wrote earlier this year in an essay in Foreign Affairs laying out his worldview. “But this contest does not just define our past. It will define our future, as well.”
Is that really true? In 1950, the Soviet Union menaced the West both as a military and an ideological force. Today, neither China nor Russia poses anything like an existential threat to the United States or the West. Yet democracy is being eaten away from inside by nationalism, by religious extremism, by corruption. India, Turkey and Brazil, democratic success stories for all their shortcomings only a decade ago, are now sliding toward autocracy, imprisoning critics and marginalizing minorities. Far-right parties have been gathering strength in Western Europe over the last decade, and increasingly so since the 2015 refugee crisis. No fully established democracy has surrendered its norms more rapidly than the United States, which over the last decade has fallen from 22nd to 33rd in Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World index. In November, 48 percent of Americans voted for an incumbent president who had spent four years demonstrating his contempt for those norms. The crisis, in short, is both domestic and global.
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