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Peter Morici: America must tolerate some not-so-good guys to defeat the real bad guys

The goals of American foreign policy should be strengthening homeland security and the safety of Americans abroad, promoting national prosperity, and advancing human rights.

Trade-offs abound among those three baskets and sometimes we must do business with ruthless autocrats—as President Franklin D. Roosevelt did with the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin.  

Stiffened resolve and joint action among NATO and our major Pacific allies is a praiseworthy accomplishment of the Biden administration, but our posture remains too timid and defensive.

Ukraine is morphing into a war of attrition that Kyiv is challenged to win.

Porous sanctions

Western sanctions remain too porous, and sanctions alone won’t make Russian President Vladimir Putin yield. Renault

has resumed production in Russia, and Pepsi

PEP is supplying Lay’s potato chips, cheese and other “essentials.”

With Putin’s domestic approval rating remaining above 80% and his army committing wholesale atrocities, even limited Western participation in the Russian economy only serves to support Putin’s war machine and is morally rudderless.  

By denying the Ukrainians jet fighters, intelligence about targets within Russia and offensive weapons like the most modern tanks to take the war to the Russians, we invite a false peace. Putin slices off Donetsk and Luhansk, we de facto acknowledge Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, and Moscow plants operatives further east to subvert Ukrainian authority.

If Putin threatens retaliation against NATO, President Joe Biden should make plain the U.S. Navy would sink Russia’s fleet, seize its commercial ships at sea, and blockade its ports. Otherwise, Putin will rebuild his military, learn from its mistakes and perhaps take aim at Sweden, FinlandMoldova and the Balkans.

Deterring China

the West is hardly disengaging from China—foreign investment into and exports from the Middle Kingdom are booming, and the American military in the Pacific needs restructuring to deter China from taking Taiwan. 

Taiwan’s defense can be hardened with advanced American weapons, but quickly coming to the aid of the island nation if invaded by China poses daunting logistical challenges.

Michele Flournoy—President Barack Obama’s undersecretary of defense—makes a persuasive case for reconfiguring U.S. forces to insure we can “sink all of China’s military vessels, submarines, and merchant ships in the South China Sea within 72 hours.”

The world is not conveniently dividing between spheres of democratic states—NATO and Japan, Australia and a few other allies in the Pacific—and belligerent autocracies—Russia, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and several others.  

Too much of the world’s oil is among the latter and in a nether space between democracy and its adversaries—Iraq, Kuwait, Nigeria, Indonesia and others.

Among them all, we should choose among the lesser of evils and get out of oil as fast as we can.

Biden’s greatest mistake

Biden’s greatest sin against facts and reason has been to work tirelessly to stifle and villainize the U.S. petroleum industry and block infrastructure that could bring Canadian oil to our refineries.

Reasonably priced electric vehicles in sufficient volume and supporting charging infrastructure are simply not yet available in sufficient quantities.

Drilling in North America to supply Europe with more liquefied natural gas doesn’t have to slow Biden’s goals for a low-carbon economy. It does mean, however, we won’t have to foolishly remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations and re-enter a questionable nuclear deal to obtain oil from Iran.

We can’t escape that we could drill full out in North America, and the West would still need oil and gas from the Middle East, ex Iran. Especially with Russia handicapped from participation.

Free of sanctions, Iran would become a greatly enhanced terrorist state, an economic powerhouse beyond oil and with more than twice the population, a much greater menace to regional stability and American interests than Saudi Arabia.

Antagonizing the Saudi crown prince ranks among Biden’s greatest strategic blunders—right up there with taking U.S. military force off the table in Ukraine, inadequately supplying its army, hastily withdrawing from Afghanistan, and dissing North American oil producers.  

China is buying 1.8 million barrels a day of Saudi oil, but we have the Patriot missiles that the kingdom needs to defend against Iranian-supported Houthi attacks. And China is unlikely to guarantee its security as we have done in the past.  

We can’t oppose the Saudi war with Iranian-supported fractions in Yemen and vehemently criticize Mohammed bin Salman’s domestic policies then ask him to pump more oil, nudge him to better treat dissenters and women, and join with us in the Abraham Accords to build a more peaceable region and credible answer to Iranian aggression.

Adults recognize there are lots of bad actors in the world. Americans must get tougher with the worst of them and tolerate those least threatening to best serve our national interests.

Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.

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