U.S. Foreign Policy Needs a Realism Rebate

There have been many reasons for shutdown drama in Washington in recent decades. But the fight over a foreign aid package was a new one this year. It underlined President Joe Biden‘s lack of leadership in bringing this critical spending across the finish line. In Biden’s parlance, Congress‘ reluctance to pass the latest multi-billion-dollar aid package was not the result of politicians responding to widely held public sentiment. Instead, it’s a cadre of cynical “isolationists” content to watch Western civilization burn. Declaring it’s “Weimar o’clock” has become as grimly predictable as the failures this tired crutch seeks to excuse. This rhetoric certainly won’t persuade more Americans to support spending on foreign aid.

Here’s what might: assuring Americans of a tangible “realism rebate” by publicly committing to pivot our foreign policy to demand more of our allies and expect more of ourselves moving forward.

Let me be clear: I want to see an aid package passed. Kyiv needs our support urgently. So do the Israelis and the Taiwanese. But I also pride myself on being a resident of the real world. In the realm I inhabit, wishful thinking doesn’t get legislation passed and dismissing legitimate concerns pushes reasonable people farther away. Condescension breeds contempt.

I’m not sure the Biden administration fully grasps this reality. It waxes poetic about defending democracy abroad but seems annoyed by its presence at home. It also appears incapable of accepting that skepticism about foreign aid is simply part of our modern political landscape. It can’t be lectured away or pressed into submission.

And let’s be honest: today’s incredulity is well earned.

Americans want a reprieve from kicking the can through spending that just leads to more spending six months down the road. That’s not to say they aren’t willing to devote resources to anything. But they want to know what the goal is, assess what victory looks like, and be assured they’ll be getting actual value for money. This attitude is hardly wild-eyed isolationism. It’s rational. It’s an acquaintance with reality. And reality is what Biden needs to engage with more if he wants to secure public support for foreign aid.

That’s why, before any talk of democracy dividends overseas, the administration must first focus on delivering a realism rebate here at home.

First, that means demanding more of our allies.

The Europeans are our friends. We need them. For too long, however, many treated our commitment to their security as an entitlement. That must end immediately. Arrears to our alliance, not just in NATO, must be paid. Nations that refuse must face consequences. Beguiling guilt trips won’t suffice. And, when European leaders complain privately of needing to spend the funds on domestic concerns, they must be publicly shamed and reminded that U.S. funds are being diverted from similar priorities.

Had the Europeans not freeloaded for decades and let their own capabilities atrophy, Vladimir Putin would never have invaded Ukraine. Now, two years after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s “Zeitenwende” speech announcing an increase in military spending, it’s worth remembering that nations like Germany continue to miss the bare minimum target of spending 2 percent of their GPD on defense.

Read the rest at Newsweek.

George Bogden is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute.

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