I’ll preface this post by saying that presidential hopeful Andrew Yang seems like a decent and authentic guy. He has some interesting ideas on domestic policy (e.g. universal basic income, renewable energy, electoral reform, etc.), so I’m glad that he’s still in the debates and the merits of some of his ideas can be discussed. He seems to have some breakout potential – more than, say, Marianne Williamson. I somehow got onto his email list and I saw that he made the individual donations mark before Gabbard did. He has a passionate following which has adopted the moniker of the “Yang Gang.” I can also picture some establishment types maybe being willing to eventually support him as a guy who has a few unconventional policy ideas but ultimately is more capitalist-friendly than a couple of other popular candidates. He would also satisfy the identity politics requirement that is disproportionately significant to some in the party leadership. That is why I’m taking the time to comment on him.
Unfortunately, whatever independent and out-of-the-box thinking that Yang is capable of on domestic policy doesn’t seem to extend to foreign policy. This is becoming clear as he is starting to develop and publicly discuss a foreign policy agenda. His comments on a “Yang Doctrine” were mentioned in a brief interview he did with a YouTuber who leads a Yang fan club. The Yang Doctrine as laid out in the video below consists of 3 criteria that would have to be met to trigger military intervention by the U.S.: 1) is a vital U.S. interest at stake or is there a humanitarian disaster that needs to be averted?, 2) is there a clear timeline for the commitment?, and 3) are our allies willing to engage and help?
Now, to his credit, Yang acknowledges that we’ve been engaged in too many wars and interventions over the past two decades. He also states that there must be more investment in diplomacy and willingness to talk to “dictators.” Additionally, on his website’s foreign policy page, he commits to rescinding the AUMF and giving Congress back the authority to declare war, except for “emergency military activity.” These are all things that are steps in the right direction.
However, what concerns me is the first point of his Yang Doctrine, which leaves a hell of a lot of wriggle room for aggressive shenanigans. He doesn’t define what a “vital U.S. interest” is. Also, he is embracing humanitarian intervention. There have literally been whole books written about how this often serves as a fig leaf for aggressive regime change wars. Again, Yang does not set out any specific details about what would constitute a “humanitarian disaster.” Would he have gone along with the Libya intervention? Libya was a perfect example of humanitarianism, which manipulates people to support a war, being used as a cover for a regime change agenda. Moreover, the humanitarian claims turned out to be bogus. But that inconvenient truth came out after the fact – after the damage had been done. After Libya was reduced from the most prosperous nation in Africa to a slave-trading, terrorist-infested failed state. How would Yang avoid ravaging another country like this in the future under the guise of humanitarianism?
Yang’s comments in this interview on the Crimea issue show that he doesn’t have any understanding of Crimea’s historical relationship to Russia and what even happened in 2014. He seems to think that Crimea was reunited with Russia against its will and is being mistreated. Given that our relationship with Russia is one of the most important and contentious bilateral relationships, a candidate should have at least a rudimentary understanding of the issues at play and Yang shows he doesn’t. His recent answers to foreign policy questions posed by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) to the Democratic candidates – which I’ll discuss in more detail below – merely reinforces this assessment. Yang stated in his answers that he wants to expand sanctions on Russia even further.
Yang also made some comments on the Israel/Palestine issue during a media interview earlier this summer that showed he is not inclined to question the entrenched position in Washington of viewing Israel as entitled to the benefits and protections (and none of the accountability) of essentially being the 51st state. In fact, his answer seemed to indicate that he had little understanding of the actual history and dynamics of the conflict itself. This is not exactly an obscure conflict where only a few eggheads firmly ensconced in the deepest recesses of a university are going to understand it. In his subsequent CFR answers regarding Israel/Palestine, Yang at least acknowledged that Israel has created illegal settlements that might be problematic. He also paid lip service to a 2-state solution but said nothing about the facts on the ground, which have been systematically created by Israel (i.e. settlements) to undermine any credible 2-state solution.
Yang addressed some other major foreign policy issues with the CFR questions. One of those is Iran. Yang said he would rejoin the nuclear deal, but he still characterizes Iran as a destabilizing force in the region. This, along with his comments on Israel/Palestine, show little understanding of the Middle East, just the repetition of establishment talking points.
With regard to China, Yang again shows little understanding of another major country that represents an important but contentious bilateral relationship. For example, he suggests that China is “becoming more authoritarian” with its embrace of technology to censor and surveil – as if mainland China hasn’t been “authoritarian” for much of its history. The utilization of recently available (surveillance) technology to reinforce these tendencies is less an example of “increasing authoritarianism” than the western democracies utilizing that same technology in a more gradual but very similar way to undermine pre-existing civil liberties. The latter is an example of going from less authoritarian to more authoritarian. China, not so much. If a supposed brainiac like Yang cannot recognize that his comments don’t make logical sense, then we have a problem.
With respect to Venezuela, he repeats the establishment line that Maduro is “undemocratic” and that outside powers, led by the US, have the right and duty to force him to step down and allow Guaido to be in charge until further elections. His position reveals that he believes in imposing regime change, just without a military invasion. He also doesn’t mention the deaths caused by our economic sanctions there.
I understand that it’s still very early on and I also understand that most Americans are concerned with more immediate domestic policies. However, as I’ve said before, given the actual responsibilities that the job of U.S. president entails and the power that presidents wield on foreign policy, a serious candidate cannot simply view foreign policy as some b.s. afterthought. A politically inexperienced candidate who is utterly ignorant on foreign policy can be easily manipulated by the blob into dangerous actions that potentially have consequences for all Americans as well as the entire world.
Yang, along with all of the candidates, is applying for the toughest job in the country and if he – or any of those candidates – can’t show the intellectual grasp, critical thinking skills, and judgment to be commander in chief in addition to the other duties of the office, then they aren’t qualified for the job.