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Right And Left Respond To The Week In U.S. Foreign Policy


This morning, we're going to take some time to try and make sense of U.S. foreign policy. Israel, Hong Kong, China, Kashmir - it was a chaotic week internationally. And how the Trump administration has or has not responded plays a role. Joining me now are Danielle Pletka, senior vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Welcome to you.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know you're in between flights at the Denver Airport, so it may be a little bit noisy. And Brian Katulis is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, which has a liberal viewpoint. Good morning to you.

BRIAN KATULIS: Great to be with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, I think we're going to start with Israel, of course, which has been taking up a lot of the oxygen here in the United States and elsewhere. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar will not be traveling. Of course, Israel barred them soon after President Trump tweeted that it would show weakness to let them enter the country. Israel did later offer to allow Tlaib to visit her grandmother on the West Bank, but she then declined. It was back and forth and back and forth. Danielle Pletka, I'm going to start with you. I covered Israel, Palestine for a long time. This is an unprecedented chain of events.

PLETKA: I think it is unprecedented. And first of all, Donald Trump has done a huge favor to Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Second part - Benjamin Netanyahu, in agreeing with Donald Trump, has done a huge favor to these American women and no favor to himself. On the other hand, let's not forget - and this should not stop them from going anywhere - but let's not forget the kind of odious views that both Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have espoused.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brian Katulis, an American president advocating for the barring of American members of Congress - what is your take on this?

KATULIS: The simple fact of the matter is that this whole episode does not bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict any closer to resolution. What it does do is make the U.S.-Israel relationship even more of a partisan wedge issue in our politics. So like many things in the Trump era, there's so much noise but not much progress.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump seem, through this, to be putting very narrow political calculuses in their respective countries. Netanyahu, of course, is facing an election. Donald Trump is also facing an election here in the U.S. The evangelicals, of course, give a lot of support. This plays well with them. The hard right in Israel also finds this to be something that they view positively. So I'd like to get your views on this. I mean, is this really their putting a party over politics?

PLETKA: I'd love to say that this is party over politics, but I think this is just politics over seriousness, politics over leadership, politics over a desire to achieve good things in the world, which should be both Israel and America's aims, you know, and it is hugely shortsighted.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brian, let's move on to Hong Kong where protests continue and Chinese troops are not far away. President Trump has been, I think it's fair to say, tepid in his reaction, tweeting his hopes for a humane solution but also praising President Xi. Should he be more forceful, or is he playing it smart?

KATULIS: President Trump, I think, has unfortunately downgraded the struggle for freedom in his overall foreign policy agenda and has really shown a weaker hand to countries like China and other authoritarian countries that previous presidents didn't do, you know. And I think he could have had a much more forceful statement with the backing of Republicans and Democrats in Congress towards China. And instead, he's been passively appeasing a lot of authoritarian countries around the world. And this is just the latest episode.

It puts us in a weaker position. And the consequence of it are countries like China are simply just likely to move forward and do what they want to do and not really take into account seriously what the United States says or does. And, you know, to be frank, this didn't start with President Trump. It began before him. But these internal divisions, these sort of different statements or sometimes weak statements from President Trump just give more incentive for countries like China to do what they want to do irrespective of what the U.S. is saying.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Danielle, is President Trump giving license to authoritarian leaders?

PLETKA: I think President Trump has been insufficiently forceful on China's behavior in Hong Kong. I think he's been insufficiently forceful, frankly, on a whole variety of issues relating to democracy. This is something, as Brian said, that was a problem under Obama, and it's still a problem under Trump. You know, I think that the president has this idea that if he speaks out on Hong Kong more forcefully, it'll somehow derail his trade negotiations. And he couldn't be further from the truth. This will only do what is necessary, what is appropriate for the United States, which is for us to stand behind people who are standing for themselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, final thoughts, Danielle and Brian - I mean, is the world safe or less safe at this particular moment when you look around and see the various conflicts brewing? What do you think?

PLETKA: I don't think that the world is a safer place, but I also don't think that that's Donald Trump's legacy. I think that that is the legacy of two presidents in a row who have been insufficiently exercised about what we see going on, whether it's in the South China Sea, whether it's the spread of al-Qaida and ISIS in Africa.

What we've been looking at for the last 10 years is a world in growing turmoil and a United States that has neither Democratic leaders nor Republican leaders who are terribly serious about addressing not just the problems but the root of the problems that we see in national security. Those chickens are going to come home to roost whether the next president wants it or not.

KATULIS: Three years ago, Donald Trump said that America would be tired of winning in the world we'd be winning so much. And I think, quite objectively, it's hard to point to a clear victory for the United States in the world 2 1/2 years into his term. That leaves us with a landscape where there are a bunch of small fires burning in many parts of the world. And America, by and large, seeks, I think, to withdraw from that. And I think this is where Danielle and I agree - is that that actually won't help America in the long run - to pull back.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brian Katulis from the Center for American Progress, thank you very much.

KATULIS: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, thank you very much.

PLETKA: Denver Airport and I thank you as well.

(LAUGHTER) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.