The West Should Open its Door for Russia to Avoid a China-Russia Alliance

The Liberty asked a leading commentator of the U.S. conservative space about the current state of international affairs (as of June 2).

Interviewer: Satoshi Nishihata


Josh Hammer

Josh Hammer

Josh Hammer is the opinion editor of Newsweek. Hammer hosts a podcast called “The Josh Hammer Show,” and he is a Research Fellow at the Edmund Burke Foundation founded by Yoram Hazony. Hammer is an active member of the State Bar of Texas.


Interviewer: The Biden administration is considering lifting or ending tariffs on China to fight inflation, and you warned in your article that it will make the median American consumer even more dependent on our geopolitical arch-foe. What is your assessment of the Biden administration’s China policy, and what advice would you give to the administration regarding China policy?

Mr. Hammer: I think, since day one, the Biden administration has been pretty soft on China no matter where you look, whether it’s been their national security posture, whether it’s been their economic policies, whether it’s been the way that they’ve interacted with the Chinese Communist Party in various summits. There was a very bad summit with Antony Blinken and his counterpart in Beijing. That summit took place in Alaska last year. Just repeatedly, it seems that this administration has bent over backward to give China what it wants.

And unfortunately, American policy, economic policies for the past 40 years, have really just accentuated the extent to which we are reliant on China. This was highlighted, I think, for the entire world to see, at the beginning of COVID, when famously it turned out that we needed mass and other personal protective equipment for this pandemic, it turned out that we needed to import it from China, which of course, is the reason we have or had the COVID-19 in the entire first place.

So ending tariffs on China is the wrong way to go here. This is one area where the Trump administration broke 40 plus years of bipartisan consensus with respect to unadulterated free trade. The reality is that there’s no such thing as free trade with China. There’s no such thing as free trade with China because they manipulate their currency to no end, because they have intense theft of intellectual property and things of that nature there. This is an antagonistic regime, and it is a regime that we don’t want to be unnecessarily reliant on for supply chains, semiconductors, personal protective equipment, you name it. So this is a misguided policy there. There are, I think, any number of things the Biden administration can and should be doing to try to tamp down inflation so that consumers are not paying exorbitant fees in the supermarket or at the gas pump or things like that. But ending tariffs on China, or at least rolling them down is simply not the way to go about doing that.

Interviewer: Okay. Let me ask you about the US’s Ukraine policy. Over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, most of the Japanese and Western media have been praising President Zelensky as a hero who fights for the free world. However, when we look into the history of the Ukrainian government, it is highly questionable. And you have pointed out in your previous article,Clarity on Russia, Ukraine and the American National Interest, that the Ukraine government has been disseminating disinformation and propaganda as well as Russia. You also noted that “Ukraine is just as corrupt and just as oligarchic as Russia, if not more so,” moreover, “There are neo-Nazi paramilitary units, such as the Azov Battalion, active in Ukraine.” What is your current analysis of the disinformation and the propaganda of the Ukraine government?

Mr. Hammer: To be perfectly candid with you, it’s not an issue I’m paying as close attention to as I was two and a half months ago (as of June 2), at the beginning of the conflict.

The reality is that Russia and Ukraine have now been in a more or less state of war, or at least undeclared war ever since Russia went into Crimea in early 2014. It cooled off for a number of years. Now it seems to be heating back up again. There’s a lot of disinformation, and propaganda on all sides. Russian disinformation and propaganda are infamous, of course. The Russians are very good at this. The Russians played the propaganda game going back to the Cold War. In fact, I was reading this very interesting article a few years ago. During the Cold war back in the 1960s when the United States was passing the Civil Rights Act and was kind of liberalizing race relations in general, there was a sophisticated disinformation campaign from the Kremlin, where they would kind of go into inner cities and distribute these pamphlets, these leaflets to black Americans, basically trying to say things that would try to inflame tension to make it worse. So Russian disinformation has a very long and inglorious history.

But to your question, one thing that I pointed out in this column that you’re referencing, two and a half months ago or so (as of June 2), which not a whole lot of people were picking up on, is that Ukraine has a very sophisticated information operation as well. I haven’t been to the Twitter account in a while, but the Twitter account, “@Ukraine”, which is a blue-check, verified Twitter account, was putting out a lot of things at the beginning of the conflict that seemed to be potentially at least a little suspect. And there was simply no chance that the account is being run from inside of Ukraine. On the contrary, it very clearly reads like it is being run by someone in the west. I would suspect probably in the United States, if I had to guess, some sort of NGO, or kind of Liberal internationalist intern, is probably running that account.

The details, obviously, we don’t exactly know, but before and after the 2014 Maidan revolution, even continuing to the present, Ukraine is still a very corrupt country. At the time of the revolution in 2014, Ukraine was ranked 142nd among 175 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index. It remains to this day a profoundly corrupt, oligarchic country where these nefarious kinds of private actors are freely awarded government contracts to the exclusion of anyone else.

At the end of the day, it is in the United States’ interests that Ukraine remain independent. It is in our interest that Ukraine not become the next Belarus. Belarus at this point is basically just a full client state of Vladimir Putin. So I hope that Ukraine is able to roughly prevail. The problem here is that what it looks like to me is that this conflict’s going to just drag on into the interminable or indefinite future, I should say, because it’s just going to end up being a situation where the borders are just kind of constantly shifting. And it’s difficult, I think, for a lot of Westerners to understand this, but there are a lot of places in the world that have contested borders. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a famous example, the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan, Western Sahara which Morocco regards as its own, and Kurdistan. There is any number of examples where borders are not clean, and they’re constantly shifting and contested. And it seems to me like that’s going to be a situation on the Russia-Ukraine border for a while now, and we’re just going to have to accept that reality and live with it.

Interviewer: You also provided a suggestion to President Biden that he should formally take the prospect of NATO membership of Ukraine off the table. What is the reason?

Mr. Hammer: So the reality is that NATO accomplished its goal 33 years ago when the Berlin Wall came down, or maybe 31 years ago when the Soviet Union formally dissolved and the new Russian Federation was formed from the Ashes of that. NATO was successful, it achieved its mission. It’s just not clear, or it’s not obvious, what function exactly NATO serves anymore.

There is no clarion reason why for this unnecessary, unjustified, and reckless invasion (of Ukraine). But looking ahead 20, 30, or 40 years from now, as difficult as it is to project that far ahead, there’s no reason to unnecessarily antagonize Russia. Russia at this point is not even a fraction of the geopolitical player that China is. China is orders of magnitude more powerful. And China is bigger. They have a much bigger economy. Their military is increasing at a much more rapid clip, obviously, than Russia’s, which is dilapidated in terms of its nuclear arsenal, and its hard infrastructure in general. So I think, there’s really just no point in antagonizing Russia over the next 30 or 40 years.

Now for the short term, Russia has to be punished to some extent through its reckless actions here, no doubt about that. But in Ukraine, these countries in the far Eastern part of Europe, I’m not necessarily saying the countries that are in NATO, like the Baltic States, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania. I’m not suggesting that we strip NATO status out of its current members. But at this point, it seems to me needlessly provocative to add more countries to NATO, whether it’s Ukraine or whether it’s Sweden and Finland, who are applying for membership now. The Biden administration seems to support that.

Generally speaking, the age of these international alliances, I think, is over. I think in the aftermath of World War II, when we saw NATO, the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the World Trade Organization, all these international, transnational institutions, the idea here, to kind of borrow Francis Fukuyama’s thesis, was that liberalism and transnationalism would be the end of conflicts, the end of wars. It hasn’t worked. I think we need to see a broader kind of diminishing of the importance of these transnational, unaccountable institutions like the EU, NATO, and the United Nations, and the rise of more sovereign nation States. So I support a global order that is predicated upon a fundamental nation-state unit and less predicated upon the idea of unaccountable transnational actors.

Interviewer: As you know, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said Ukraine should accept giving up part of its territory to reach a peace deal with Russia in Davos, on March 23rd. How would you see this statement?

Mr. Hammer: I’m inclined to agree with that statement. I think Henry Kissinger is basically correct about this. First of all, God bless him, he’s very old at this point, and God bless the fact that he’s still following the news and able to pay attention and things of that nature.

But this kind of gets back to my answer two questions ago, which is I think the Russia-Ukraine border is going to be shifting for a while. I mean, it’s not going to be immediately obvious whether the Donbas regions, for instance, or other places in Eastern Ukraine, whether they are part of Ukraine or Russia. And again, I think that’s okay. I think Westerners are going to have to accept that that is a reality. I mean, President Zelensky has to do what he deems to be in the best interest of Ukraine. Every national leader can only do what he or she believes is in the best interest of their particular country. But from an American perspective, from a US perspective, I would like to see the dwindling down of this conflict. I would like to see a Europe that is not threatened anymore by Russia or any other kind of actors from the Eastern flank, I suppose. It would be in our interest to see this conflict come to an end sooner rather than later. And from a US perspective, again, I believe that Ukraine should remain independent. It is better from the US perspective that Ukraine remains independent, and does not become the next Belarus. That is the US interest.

At the same time, the precise nature of the border, again, whether it carves off the Donbas or not, it honestly is not of super dramatic importance to me. It’s just really not. It’s not going to affect most Americans day to day lives that much. So from that perspective, I agree with Henry Kissinger.

Interviewer: Do you think the risk of triggering World War III is growing, especially if Ukraine is included in NATO?

Mr. Hammer: I don’t necessarily think that adding countries to NATO is a World War III sparking act. I’m not convinced, necessarily, that it’s that terrible. But if World War III is ever going to happen, I pray to God that it does not, as every rational and sane person should equally pray for that. But if it were to ever happen, the primary instigator for that would not necessarily be Russia. It would probably be China.

Russia at this point has the 11th largest GDP in the world. They do have a nuclear arsenal, of course, from the Soviet Union days. But it’s in many ways kind of a corrupt Petrostate that the oil and natural gas industry is completely dominant as a share of its economy. It happens to be that the ruble, the Russian currency, is doing quite well right now. But at the same time, the sanctions with respect to oil imports from the European Union and Western countries, in general, might take a little time to see just how dramatically it hits the Russian economy, and the Russian GDP, of course, has been plummeting since this invasion started. So I’m not super persuaded of the ability of Russia to instigate World War III. But God forbid, if such great international conflicts were to ever again happen, I fear they’ll probably be from China, not from Russia.

Interviewer: How do you see the risk of the relationship between Russia and China getting closer?

Mr. Hammer: Yes, which is why I said earlier in this conversation that I think the US policy long term should be to not needlessly antagonize Russia, because if we can find a way to pull Russia at least a little friendlier to the west, a little friendlier to the United States and Europe, then perhaps they won’t fall as easily into the Chinese sphere of influence.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are very close to one another, and I obviously wish that were not the case. But again, what I’ve encouraged is that I think American statesmen and policymakers should be open to the possibility of reaching out to Russia to try to get somewhat friendlier relations in a hypothetical world, in the aftermath of this terrible conflict that’s happening in Ukraine.

Interviewer: Regarding Ukraine, Congress has approved a 40 billion aid package. On the other hand, it’s a situation that the US next quarter is getting worse. From the perspective of the presidential constitutional oath to protect and defend own citizens, what is your assessment of this bill?

Mr. Hammer: The bill is wrong, and I would have voted against it. I think Senator Josh Hawley, the freshman Republican from Missouri, was exactly right when he wrote in an op-ed for Compact magazine last week where he basically said this bill treats Ukraine as a quote-unquote client state of the United States. $40 billion is a large sum of money to ship to one country by way of comparison, Israel, which gets a lot of US money every year, it’s often treated as a political football. You have a lot of people that rally for it, that rally against it. The number of aids to Israel in a given year is usually between 3 to 4 billion dollars, at the most. So this is more than ten times that.

It was rushed through Congress. It was outside of the appropriations process. It was rushed through in classic congressional fashion overnight, when no one had a chance to kind of read it to see what was in the details. Who knows who we’re actually funding there? Again, this is a deeply corrupt country, as we talked about earlier. It’s not obvious that all this money will go to the right place. It is needlessly provocative, I think, of Russia, to the extent that we are physically arming then if we are sending launch systems, missiles. I mean, at this point in the conflict, that is a mistake. Maybe there was a case made for that very early on when it looked like Ukraine could achieve a possible quick deterrence. But at this point, it looks like Russia is, again, they’re in the Donbas to stay for the foreseeable future (as of June 2).

So I see just no reason to get the United States further involved in this conflict. On the contrary, I think we should be getting less involved in this conflict and just grapple with the reality that this is here to stay for a while. This conflict is going to roil those borders there in Eastern Ukraine and Western Russia. Furthermore, to the extent that any kind of non-Russian or non-Ukrainian actor is ever going to take full responsibility for helping the Ukrainians, or for potentially rebuilding Ukraine in the aftermath of the war, that responsibility should absolutely primarily be with the European Union, should be primarily with the Europeans who are right there, because all this is obviously happening on their doorstep. They’re the ones who should be most fearful of a hegemonic Russian Federation.

The United States’ interest here, again, is secondary or tertiary at best. It is way down the priorities list. There is so much wrong, bad stuff going on here in the United States. You mentioned our porous Southern border. There’s a lot, that money could be better used for here on the home front.

Interviewer: As you said, Josh Hawley is an excellent Senator. I have read that article, too. In the US, energy prices are boosting. The Biden administration, however, has canceled offshore oil and natural gas leases in both Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. Regarding this decision, you pointed out that it “intended to appease the greenie and Malthusian radicals who increasingly dominate the Democratic donor base.” Could you give us more details about this?

Mr. Hammer: The energy policy of this administration, similar to its approach to any number of other areas, is the opposite of the Trump administration’s America First policy, it is an America Last policy. At the same time, the administration is cozying up to the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is a terrible regime and a horrific foe of the United States. They’re even going so far as say they are potentially open to Iranian oil imports. While at the same time they are doing that, they are canceling oil and natural gas leases offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska, on day one of this administration, going back to January 2021. And literally on day one of this administration, they canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, the transnational pipeline from Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. The Biden Administration has completely upended one of the Trump administration’s defining accomplishments.

By the end of the Trump administration, America was not an energy net importer. It was actually a net energy exporter, just an absolute remarkable achievement, completely flipping on its head the idea going back decades and decades that America was reliant upon the Saudis, Venezuelans, and all these unstable geopolitical actors for their energy. The Trump administration did away with that. It showed that we actually are blessed in America to sit on such sprawling shale reserves of oil and natural gas. And energy independence is national security, in the same way as supply chain independence, going back to a previous answer with respect to China. Supply chain independence helps national security, in the same way that energy independence helps national security.

The Trump administration was gearing us up to do better on both fronts, supply chains, and energy. And the Biden administration seems to be doing the exact opposite of making us more dependent, potentially, on China for supply chains at the tariff policy, and more dependent on the Saudis, Venezuelans, any number of other unstable geopolitical actors with respect to our oil and natural gas policy. So, as always with this administration, down is up, left is right. Their priorities are simply completely backward. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs.

But when it comes to energy in particular, we’re also facing four-decade high gas prices. Gas prices in every state in the country are currently averaging about $4 a gallon right now (as of June 2). It is unprecedented to be this high. So I think at this point, given those prices at the pump, to cancel these sort of leases in Alaska, Gulf of Mexico, whatever, it takes a certain level of hatred for your own people, honestly, for your own voter base, and it’s just grotesque. And the only thing that I can think of as to why they’re doing this, of course, is because they have a particularly zealous, radical donor and activist class who is pushing these horrific policies.

Interviewer: The last question is based on your article, Joe Biden Versus We the People. You noted that under the Biden administration, the lower and middle classes are damaged. Could you tell us how the current administration is causing such damage to the lower and middle class, especially in terms of economic and foreign policy?

Mr. Hammer:Yeah. So look, inflation, again, it’s at a four-decade high. Inflation hurts everyone, obviously, but is famously regressive insofar as working-class and middle-class people are hurt the worst from skyrocketing inflation because it is their incomes, it is their wages, it is their savings accounts. They’re disproportionately harmed by escalating prices. Wealthy people, obviously, the upper class, by contracts are not necessarily so ruinously harmed. They are harmed, but they’re not living paycheck to paycheck. So it just doesn’t, on a tangible, day-to-day level, affect them as much. Also, the Biden administration’s war on energy, its war on oil, on natural gas, the increased war on coal, which affects States like Ohio and West Virginia, and Kentucky, all of these things tend to disproportionately harm the working class. And when it comes to things like the Ukraine bill, the $40 billion in Ukraine, you could poll any number of working-class people in America, people who are struggling paycheck to paycheck, the people who just want to go to Church on Sundays, just want to kind of lead their lives without being bombarded by escalating, skyrocketing violent crime, which is happening in this country right now. None of them, virtually none of them would support $40 billion to Ukraine, because they would have the common sense to know that when the economy is in the toilet, you don’t ship money overseas. You better keep it here to help your own people.

So it’s really kind of common sense stuff here. Also, in many other respects, the Biden administration, whether it’s kind of this Ministry of Truth, the Disinformation Governance Board, or whatever they’re calling it. Whether it was kind of the national security memo that the Department of Homeland Security rolled out last June, the National Security Strategy for Combating Domestic Terrorism, I think they called it. Increasingly, it appears to be the case that the Biden administration views, Trump supporters, and Republicans as the enemy, like Hillary Clinton called us “deplorable”. And as such, it increasingly appears to be the case that they want to subject us to censorship and kind of just general otherization. So that is what I really fear, and I think it’s already happening to an extent.

Interviewer: Thank you.

The West Should Open its Door for Russia to Avoid a China-Russia Alliance
Copyright © IRH Press Co.Ltd. All Right Reserved.