Elephants in the Room
Why We Joined Over 70 Former Republican National Security Officials to Support Biden
A Trump empowered with a second term would be a threat to the United States, especially in Asia.
On Friday, Aug. 21, we will join with more than 70 former national security officials from Republican administrations stretching from former President Ronald Reagan to current President Donald Trump as well as former Republican members of the U.S. Congress to warn that Trump lacks the character and competence to lead the country and arguing that Joe Biden should be elected the next president of the United States. In a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, we and our colleagues list 10 points explaining how dangerous it would be for U.S. national security if Trump were allowed four more years to continue soliciting foreign interference, aligning with dictators, threatening allies, fueling divisions at home, and disparaging military service personnel, intelligence officers, and diplomats.
For those of us who have spent our careers advancing U.S. partnerships and prosperity in Asia, the prospect of another four years under Trump is particularly alarming. Asia policy has been one of the most bipartisan issues in Washington. To some extent, that continues for those in the current administration who are trying to advance the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy to ensure freedom of navigation and trade, promote economic prosperity, and foster peace and stability in the region.
The problem is that Trump believes in none of it. And there is ample evidence that, empowered with a second term, he will move from degrading the value of U.S. partnerships in Asia to actively destroying them. The internationalist Republicans in Congress and senior national security officials within this administration who have actively worked behind the scenes to contain the damage caused by the president will find that much more difficult to do in a second term.
In his press conference after the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018, Trump announced his intent to eventually withdraw U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula and the cancellation of U.S.-South Korea military exercises—mimicking North Korean propaganda by calling them “war games”—without any prior consultation with allies. He is now demanding an impossible exponential increase in the amount South Korea pays for U.S. bases and has threatened to draw down U.S. troops, just as he did in a fit of pique with Germany. Congress included amendments in the last two National Defense Authorization Acts to make this more difficult, but members and staff we have talked to have less confidence that they can stop Trump’s elusive and narcissistic pursuit of the Nobel Peace Prize by dealing away U.S. troops and bases for a fake peace deal with Kim. The Korean Peninsula is the lynchpin of Asian stability, and a U.S. retreat would be a jackpot for China and create an almost existential danger for allies like Japan.
Trump has confronted China by starting trade wars with everyone else. Major democratic powers including Japan, France, and Canada are desperate to work with the United States to blunt China’s predatory technology policies. There is an opportunity to forge an international coalition on 5G telecommunications, for example, that would set the rules for economic competition and technology dominance in the 21st century, but Trump would clearly rather play the theater of tariffs, unilateral threats, fake deals, and bluster. The United States will not block—let alone reverse—Chinese predatory economic policies by itself, and the window to build an effective international coalition will close over the next four years if Washington stays on the same counterproductive course.
Many of us are concerned that China is positioning itself to increase military coercion and pressure on Taiwan, which in turn threatens key alliance relationships with Japan and Australia. In contrast to every previous president, Trump has rarely, if ever, reiterated the United States’ security commitments to allies and partners. On the contrary, in his mind every crisis is a transactional opportunity to extract a bit more cash and a few more favors from allies. If he sells Taiwan out in the next cross-straits crisis simply by demanding a better trade deal from China, U.S. credibility and the international order in Asia might never recover.
Strategic competition with China will not be won with podium-pounding speeches by Trump officials in Washington. The real battle is in Asia, where Chinese diplomats, spies, and businesspeople are offering cash and making threats to pressure countries to move away from the United States. Washington needs its diplomats and intelligence officers to be in the trenches winning that fight from Sri Lanka to the Solomon Islands. But the president has denuded the State Department and placed political hacks in charge of intelligence policy. That would only get worse over the next four years.
China is now actively campaigning globally against democratic norms by pointing to the United States’ disastrous response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but a recent poll by the Center for Strategic and International Studies shows that there is overwhelmingly more support across Asia for democratic norms than China’s authoritarian model. The United States has a winning hand to play in this battle over values, but Trump is squandering it by embracing dictators abroad and fueling the kind of divisive nativism at home that represents the greatest threat to democracy in Asia.
When we look at the challenges we face in Asia and the pattern of Trump’s leadership up to now, it is clear to us and many of our former colleagues that Biden has far more in common with the other Republican presidents we worked for than Trump does. This is why so many who worked for Republican presidents over the past four decades are supporting Biden in this election.
Michael J. Green is the senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a professor at Georgetown University. He served as the senior National Security Council official on Asia policy during the George W. Bush administration. Twitter: @JapanChair
Victor Cha is a professor at Georgetown University, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the author of Powerplay: The Origins of the American Alliance System in Asia. Twitter: @VictorDCha