How The Chaos In Washington Emboldens Moscow And Beijing
The deep dysfunction of American democracy is bringing smiles (and big ideas) to autocratic regimes around the world, convinced that it is a sign of the West in decline.
PARIS — Imagine you are in Vladimir Putin’s office in the Kremlin, or with Xi Jinping at Chinese government headquarters in Beijing, and you're watching political events unfold in the United States.
You see the President of the United States entrenched in a political crisis that is preventing him from passing additional aid to Ukraine, and is facing the threat of a government shutdown. The Speaker of the House has just been impeached by members of his own party. Pure political chaos, in other words, is threatening to paralyze a global superpower.
In Moscow and Beijing, these images are enough to reinforce their view, which has been ingrained for years, that the West is facing irreversible decline. Rightly or wrongly, this view dictates their military, diplomatic and political calculations, and could lead them to make risky decisions as a result.
The most recent round of political frenzy in Washington has taken everyone by surprise. Just last week, after a compromise deal between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Party leaders stripped $6 billion of Ukraine aid from the government budget, President Joe Biden called his European allies to reassure them that he reached a separate deal with the Republican leader to provide aid to Ukraine through a separate avenue.
But when far-right members of the House of Representatives found out about the deal and voted to impeach McCarthy, the future of aid to Ukraine has now become uncertain.
Ukraine as a domestic issue
Biden’s tone has since changed, and he has announced a “major speech” to remind Americans of the importance of this issue. The presidential campaign, which will continue to heat up from now until November 2024, is already having far-reaching consequences. For now, it leaves 13 months of uncertainty about Ukraine aid before Americans head to the polls.
The Biden administration has workarounds, namely Executive Orders, which are presidential decrees that don’t require approval from Congress. But the president’s power is limited in this regard, and the uncertainty weakens Ukraine.
The threat of Donald Trump returning is too real to ignore.
On Thursday, at a European summit in Granada, Spain, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed confidence, but there is undoubtedly cause for concern.
Xi and Putin in Moscow last March
The Kremlin Moscow/dpa via ZUMA Press
China is taking notes
The crisis in Washington shows how the subject of Ukraine has become a domestic political issue. A majority of Americans still support aid to Ukraine, but Republicans are increasingly opposed. The bipartisan approach to supporting Ukraine, which has worked until now, is in jeopardy.
Concern about the mess in Washington has also spread elsewhere in the world, notably in Taiwan, which relies on the United States to defend itself against China. The bipartisan approach against China remains intact, but the threat of Donald Trump returning to the White House is too real to ignore.
As the different American disaster scenarios begin to come into focus —in Moscow and Beijing, they are watching it all with delight.
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