Diplomacy is not for amateurs.
Members of our Congress can easily make it political. The ever-present complexity of foreign relations tempts some members of our government to take positions entirely for or against some nation, citing one side of its relationship to the United States and ignoring the other side.
Such an approach misleads both that nation and the American public, and poses dangers as well.
Prior to World War Two, America could afford a simpler foreign policy. As a French diplomat once noted, the United States has a weaker neighbor to the north, a weaker neighbor to the south, fish to the east, and fish to the west. That fortuitous geography allowed us the privilege of an imperious style to our foreign relations, if we chose that course.
Modern communication and transportation, and the development and proliferation of nuclear weapons, now place a premium on the kind of diplomatic expertise that has benefited European nations’ leaders for at least the past couple centuries. We’re no longer so isolated from international intrigue.
But those factors also hand the U.S. a powerful set of tools for building better, more lasting relationships across the shrinking world. We’re in a better position to work cooperatively with other nations on worldwide challenges like climate change, burgeoning—and declining —populations, and yes, nuclear proliferation.
Here are two examples of the complexities we face:
China offers a classic case of challenges and opportunities. Recent Chinese heads of state have supercharged their nation’s economy, to the point that it’s hard to imagine what American life would be without our innumerable imports from China. Western corporations, by facilitating manufacturing and other developments there, have mined China’s almost inexhaustible supply of cheap labor to greatly expand American business interests, and helped to promote Chinese economic development.
China is the United States’ number one source for imported goods and services, and stands as our third leading export target. Together those factors make China our leading trading partner. In addition, as of this past November, China holds $870 billion in U.S. national debt securities, which now total $30.9 trillion. Only Japan, with $1.08 trillion in U.S. debt securities, holds more.
But American-Chinese relations have frayed in the past few years. The reasons are several. China grows more insistent on bringing Taiwan, an American ally, into its orbit as a full participant in the Chinese nation. Also, China has developed more sophisticated methods of stealing American trade secrets and using cyber means to spy on the United States.
On the U.S. side, we’ve taken a more hostile approach to China’s persecution and “re-education” of the 12 million mostly Muslim Uighurs who live in the northwestern region of the nation. The U.S. is also increasingly concerned with Chinese nuclear weaponry and its muscle-flexing for control of international waters in the China Sea. China’s support of North Korea and its arms support for Russia’s war in Ukraine also run counter to U.S. foreign policy aims. And the Chinese government’s vast intelligence-gathering apparatus over its own people gives us pause as well.
No country has a more friendly relationship with Israel than the United States. We were the first country to formally recognize Israel’s creation as a nation in 1948, and we became the first to recognize Jerusalem as its capital in 2017.
Since 2016 the U.S. has annually provided $3.3 billion in foreign military financing for Israel and another $500 million for cooperative missile defense programs, as well as joint efforts in research and weapons development. We are Israel’s largest trading partner, exporting $20.4 billion in goods and services there and importing $27.0 billion here.
In addition, millions of Americans believe that Jews are chosen by God to own and rule the entire Holy Land area, and that Israel plays a key role in the coming of the Apocalypse and the End Times. Those beliefs hold powerful sway among some influential political groups in the United States.
On the other hand, America’s special relationship with Israel has so far not extended to recognition of Israel’s claim of legitimacy to build Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank in what some consider violation of the Oslo Accords.
America’s official position remains committed to the eventual emergence of two states in the Holy Land, one for Israel and one for the Palestinian people who have held second-class status ever since Israel’s 1948 victory. Militant Palestinians continue to rebel against Israeli rule. Many Americans, some of them Jews, are troubled by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and also hold out hope for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli problem.
The complexities of U.S.-China and U.S.-Israel relations require deft handling by a coterie of trained, seasoned, and multitalented diplomats. Politicians who ignore the many facets of American foreign relations perform a disservice to our nation and other nations with which we hope to coexist on this planet.
Americans would do well to recognize the difference between the true public servants in the diplomatic corps and the hucksters who seize on international problems for their own political gain.