President Obama is heading to Capitol Hill this morning to try, once again, to persuade congressional Democrats to back one of the few major initiatives remaining in his presidency that has a chance of coming to fruition. Last month, it was Democrats in the Senate. Now it’s their counterparts in the House.
The initiative is Trade Promotion Authority, a well-established mechanism by which Congress pledges an up-or-down vote without amendments on a trade deal the president negotiates. While approval of TPA does not guarantee passage of a trade deal, denial of TPA would essentially sound the death knell for trade talks. Our trade partners won’t stay at the table knowing any deal they announce — at the cost of their own political capital back home — will effectively be re-opened and re-negotiated by 535 members of Congress. There simply won’t be a deal, whether we’re talking about talks for a trans-Pacific pact or one with the European Union, either of which would be good for Georgia in particular.
But that’s not the only pillar of the post-World War II order that Democrats appear ready to jettison. Like the first global trade deal, the establishment of NATO took place under President Truman in the late 1940s. Much more so than the United Nations, it is NATO (and, arguably, the creation of the EU) that has prevented another global conflict on the scale seen in the first half of the 20th century. Central to that success has been the alliance’s provision that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all, and will trigger a response by all.
But a recent survey by the Pew Research Center casts great doubt on whether that provision continues to hold any weight.
The attitude in Europe is ominous: No country there surveyed by Pew showed a majority of public support for using military force to defend a NATO ally against an attack by Russia — a very real threat in the minds of our friends in Poland and the Baltic states. Only in the U.K. (49 percent for to 37 percent against), Poland (48/34) and barely in Spain (48/47) were there pluralities in support. The notion was shot down in France (47/53), Italy (40/51) and especially in Germany (38/58). And yet, about two-thirds or more of people in all of those countries but Poland anticipated U.S. engagement in such a scenario.
If the attitudes of Democrats are any indication, the Poles are right to be pessimistic. Only 47 percent of Democrats surveyed said the U.S. should back its NATO allies in case of a Russian attack. To underscore the apparent downgrade the value of a NATO membership, 59 percent of Democrats said they’d support bringing Ukraine into the alliance anyway — but only 39 percent went so far as to say NATO should send arms to the country for its self-defense.
Vladimir Putin must be grinning from ear to ear. It seems to validate the assumptions he’s ostensibly acted under while carving up Ukraine (which, while not a NATO member, had a looser security guarantee from the U.S. and Britain dating back to its independence from Russia) and rattling his saber at Poland and the Baltics.
While no one in America should desire a conflict with Russia, making plain our reluctance to make good on our promises makes Russian aggression more, not less, likely. The Western alliance and even the theory of mutual assured destruction maintained the peace during the Cold War only because U.S. leaders of both parties were credibly committed to backing up our nation’s word. That credibility has been frittered away under the Obama-Clinton foreign policy regime with a “reset” that is really more of a retreat. The American left seems to have fully digested theories of American guilt and moral equivalence with other global actors; the Russians believe in Russian exceptionalism, Obama might say with a shrug. If the Poles, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and others believe otherwise, that’s their problem.
So it is no great surprise that the American left would also have us retreat from a leadership role in global commerce. The Warren wing’s desire to export American rules for labor and the environment will look downright quixotic if a trans-Pacific deal involving the U.S. is scuttled and replaced by trade partnerships dominated by China that bend even further away from our way of doing things. You can disengage from the world, but you can’t make the world return the favor.