In Defense of a Foreign-Policy ‘Third Way’

It would be hard to craft a series of words less connotative of competence and authority than “the long-standing internationalist bipartisan D.C. foreign-policy consensus.”

Since the end of the Cold War, the servants of that elite consensus have lost two wars, overseen some of the worst intelligence failures in American history, hollowed out our middle class to finance China’s global anti-American ambitions, erased our southern border, abandoned Americans in Benghazi and Afghanistan, and today seem more focused on the troops’ pronoun sensitivity than on their war-fighting capacity.

Americans have had enough.

Foreign policy of, by, and for the elites, in both of its forms — reckless neoconservative hyper-interventionism and soulless neoliberal globalism — has failed. It has undermined our national interests and international standing. That is why the Heritage Foundation advocates a Third Way that puts America First. U.S. foreign policy ought to be the handmaiden of good domestic policy: fiscally responsible and protective of Americans’ freedom, liberty, and sovereignty.

Because this Third Way doesn’t map neatly onto Washington elites’ partisan binary — being at once idealistic, realistic, prudent, and nationalist — Heritage has lately come in for criticism from all sides for advancing it. We don’t care. Taking flak, even from friends, is more than worth it to get American foreign policy back on track. And Heritage’s consistent, principled response to Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine is an excellent and ongoing example of what we mean.

Since before Putin’s first incursions against Ukraine in 2014, Heritage has unequivocally condemned his aggression and affirmed support for an independent Ukraine that can defend itself as a clear American interest. The war this year is a test — the first of what will be many — of our resolve against Russian and Chinese maneuvers to weaken Europe and marginalize the United States. Frustrating evil empires remains as good an idea in the 21st century as it was in the 20th.

That’s why Heritage has supported and continues to support responsible military aid to Ukraine. But foreign policy ought to deliver what’s best for American taxpayers — and deliver results, not just throw money at a problem, without a strategy, without a plan, and without an end goal. That is where we differ from President Biden and from many Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Passing bills called “Aid to Ukraine” may solve a political problem for members of Congress who want to be able to say they did something, but it doesn’t ensure results for the American people.

This criticism is neither explicit partisanship nor implicit isolationism. It reflects a cool-eyed assessment of the facts. For instance, to date, U.S. military aid is not being delivered to Ukraine fast enough, while civilian aid is being handed out so quickly and blithely that it is only supercharging Kyiv’s long-standing corruption problems.

Heritage believes support for Ukraine is important enough to prioritize over lesser budget line-items, like trillions of dollars in domestic payoffs to liberal special-interest groups. We believe taxpayers deserve a full accounting of any aid they send. And we believe that all these billions of dollars should be supporting a clearly defined U.S. strategy for Ukraine, Eurasia, and the world. To date, none of the Ukraine-aid legislation proposed by President Biden or passed by Congress has cleared any of these extremely low bars.

Efficiency, transparency, and clarity are not extraordinary burdens or partisan tripwires. They are supposed to be baseline expectations for government spending. As long as Congress fails to satisfy them — including, we fear, in the next round of Ukraine-aid legislation — conservatives should stand in opposition.

If that leads Washington’s vaunted foreign-policy consensus to attack conservatives for abandoning their Reaganite foreign policy legacy, we can take some solace remembering that those same foreign-policy elites hated Ronald Reagan, too. They wanted to partner with the Soviet Union, remember. Only a leader as nuts as Reagan, with the support of the Heritage Foundation, thought the Cold War could be won. Heritage was right to stand with Reagan and question foreign-policy elites then, and we are right to do so now.

Heritage’s eminently conservative position on Ukraine is that U.S. aid to Kyiv should be (a) paid for, (b) fund military operations, and (c) support a clearly defined national-security strategy. If the Washington elites responsible for the chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, the rise of China, the border and inflation crises, and a $30 trillion federal debt think those requests are unreasonable, we believe that says more about them than about us.