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Will the United States create a “Legion of Doom”?

This leaves the three countries under varying degrees of US-led sanctions regimes — and, unsurprisingly, they are beginning to work more closely together. Iran is in the final stages of Achieving full membership In the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security forum led by China and Russia. China helped mediator es between Iran and Saudi Arabia. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is “An increased feeling of anxietyThat China might supply weapons to Russia to help Ukraine. The relationship between Iran and Russia exploded during the war in Ukraine, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby describing it as “broad defense partnership. ”

The United States has good reasons to oppose the three countries. China is a peer competitor that has acted in an increasingly authoritarian and aggressive manner during Xi Jinping’s rule. The Iranian regime remains largely illiberal, pursuing policies that have threatened US allies in the Middle East. Russia’s actions in Ukraine speak for themselves. However, when you put forward allegations like North Korea Allegedly selling weapons For Russia, it sometimes seems as if the United States has inspired its power Less comical Legion of Doom.

This emerging alliance is fueled by the American desire to lump all of America’s enemies into the same basket. During the height of the Cold War, many American policymakers assumed that the Communist bloc was homogeneous. In this century, parts of the foreign policy community have assumed that the United States is up against a pivot to something. In January 2002, George W. Bush called Iran, Iraq, and North Korea His State of the Union addressHe warned that “states like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, armed to threaten the peace of the world.” While none of these states exemplified virtue, they were not cooperating with each other or with the norm. A decade later during the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney’s foreign policy warned of the emergence of an authoritarian axis. Romney’s warning was dismissed at the time, but over the past year observers from the other side the Politician Domain They embraced the idea wholeheartedly. The vague concern American observers feel that most of the South is not on board with Russia’s sanctions fuels this fear that much of the world is uniting against the United States.

Right now, it’s hard to deny that Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, et al They take actions contrary to the interests of the United States. However, it is not clear that the cooperation between these countries is more than tactical in nature. For Iran and North Korea, any opportunity to change the US hand and break out of its current economic isolation is a welcome step. Likewise, Russia desperately needs help from any quarter as a way to combat the toll that sanctions and war are taking on the Russian economy. Not all of the historical grievances and fears that Russia, China, and Iran had in their dealings with one another have magically disappeared, they have simply been lifted by their collective resistance to American pressure.

The United States can respond to this emerging alliance in one of two ways, both of which are less interesting. One approach is to adopt the Manichean worldview and continue to adopt policies opposing this group of countries for the foreseeable future. When one examines every country in this emerging legion of death, the United States has good reasons for imposing sanctions and other forms of containment. Iran pursues a nuclear weapons program and a ballistic missile program, and has spent significant funds to destabilize US allies in the Middle East. Russia has repeatedly invaded its neighbors and bears responsibility for starting Europe’s largest land war since World War II. Other than this stark fact, Vladimir Putin has been all too willing to cause mischief in NATO countries, from disinformation campaigns to assassination attempts on opponents. China Wolf warrior diplomacy Abroad and growing repression at home are not compatible with being a responsible stakeholder. North Korea… Well, it’s North Korea.

While grouping America’s enemies together might sound conceptually appealing, it also creates complications. First, it makes it very difficult to build containment coalitions. India might be willing to contain China, for example, but the historical ties would make it difficult to oppose Russia. The United States will have no choice but to rely on it Dedicated Coalitions that don’t fit perfectly.

The bigger problem is that the Manichean worldview ignores the many ways in which US foreign policy has prospered when it divided rather than united opposing coalitions. A key element of George Kennan’s containment doctrine was the exploitation of cracks in the communist bloc. This led to improved relations with Tito in Yugoslavia in the 1950s and Mao’s China in the 1970s. Neither of these two countries resembled anything close to a liberal democracy, but with them the United States found common cause to focus on the biggest threat—the Soviet Union. (In a strange way, this point lies at the root of the Republican Party’s opposition to supporting Ukraine against Russia. For some in the MAGA crowd, China is the biggest threat Thus any opposition to Russia is either a wasted effort or a rapprochement between the two largest land powers in Asia.)

The paradox for American policymakers is that of all the countries opposing the United States, China is simultaneously the greatest threat and also the country most ripe for more positive communication. By all accounts, China is the only country that comes close to being a peer competitor to the United States. Opposing China is one of the few foreign policies that Genuinely inspires bipartisan support. At the same time, compared to countries like Russia or North Korea, China is the member of the Legion of Death with the largest shares in the current international system. The main reason China’s support for Russia has been limited so far is that Beijing benefits far more from its trade with the rest of the world than it does with Russia. This week’s summit between Putin and Xi should provide some clues about the strength of their growing partnership.

For US policymakers, the question ahead will be to choose from a host of unsavory options. They can continue to implement the foreign policy that counteracts the anti-American coalition. They can prioritize containing China and soften their approach to countries that pose the most immediate threat to the United States and its allies and partners. Or they could decide that China is the devil they know best and try to foster a new balance in Sino-American relations.

Given the unstable situation in the world, reforming the China-US relationship is the most promising option. However, given the precarious state of American politics, it is unfortunate that the option that both President Joe Biden and his Republican opponents would adopt is the least likely.

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