On Wednesday, the House of Representatives made a rare use of the War Powers Act by voting 248 to 177 to cut off U.S. military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Yet again, the left has refused to recognize that international relations are fundamentally competitive.
This vote had many ironies. In 2008, two former secretaries of state — Republican James Baker and Democrat Warren Christopher — agreed that the War Powers Act is ineffective at best and unconstitutional at worst. In 2011, the Obama administration argued it didn’t apply to U.S. airstrikes in Libya, where the United States was more directly involved than it is in Yemen.
But now the act is being trotted out by the left to condemn a Republican administration.
The problem with the Yemen vote is that it’s an expression of moral outrage, not a serious policy. The war in Yemen is a reflection of Saudi anxieties about its regional position, and about the rise of Iran.
The Yemeni rebels — the Houthi — are not simply an Iranian creation. But if they win, it will be viewed as an Iranian triumph and a Saudi loss. The Middle East is fundamentally competitive.
And so is everywhere else. You can either admit this and be serious, or you can deny it and be a fool. The history of the world is largely the history of winning and losing. Opting out of that reality means only one thing: you lose.
Of course, not everything is a competition: free trade brings gains to both sides. But competition is a reality. If you oppose the war in Yemen, you risk opting out of the competition with Iran. You want clean hands — and you get them by turning your back on the fight.
If critics of the war were Iran hawks who nevertheless believed that the war was counter-productive, that would be a plausible position. But they are not Iran hawks. They want to return to the Obama-era policy of accommodation with Iran.
The left’s error in foreign policy is that it doesn’t see competition: it sees U.S. failures to get along. It therefore believes that international relations are fundamentally about us, not about a competition between us and them. For the left, foreign policy is believing that the man in the mirror will smile at us if we smile at him. It is a way of talking about ourselves.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) illustrated this in her Green New Deal, by claiming that World War II “created the greatest middle class that the United States has ever seen.” Over 70 million people lost their lives in the Second World War. Believing it was merely an opportunity to build our middle class is obscene and wrong. War does not create wealth: it destroys wealth. And World War II was not about us: it was about Hitler and Japan.
The left loves to prattle about diversity. True, the world is a diverse place. That’s why it’s competitive: people have different interests, different cultures, and different ideas. No matter what, diversity brings competition, not cooperation.
But even sophisticated progressives like former Obama administration official Van Jackson believe that Obama was right to try a cooperative approach with Russia and China.
Jackson praises “mutual accommodation.” That means the United States has to accommodate the bad guys so that they will then hopefully accommodate us. For the left, the problem is not Russia or China: it is our unwillingness to take the first step of unclenching our fist.
But there is nothing progressive about a foreign policy which sees the hostility of others as only a reflection of the sins of the United States. If there’s anything more foolish than refusing to recognize the reality of competition, it’s blaming the U.S. for the world’s failure to embody your folly.
This piece originally appeared in Newsday