In 1950, with NATO launched and the Marshall Plan igniting Europe’s revival, the United States, with 32.5 percent of world gross domestic product, needed allies. As it does now, with China as a peer competitor. China, Coons says, has “doubled its diplomatic budget over five years and will spend over a trillion dollars on its ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative — seven times the size of the Marshall Plan in real dollars.” He is confident about U.S. advantages: Instead of “a global network of genuine allies,” China has “customers” and “nervous neighbors.” It has “a very different security architecture globally than we do because we have a very different values architecture. I think our model is what people all over the world yearn for, fight for, hope for.”
President Trump’s worst policy decision withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the trade liberalization agreement uniting 12 Asia-Pacific nations, with 40 percent of global GDP, as a counterweight to China. Although significant factions in both parties are increasingly ambivalent about free trade, Coons believes in the possibility of a bipartisan consensus supporting global trade standards that benefit Middle America while strengthening the nation’s hand in constraining China.
Coons thinks “our sinking credibility” is not mysterious: “How can our allies trust in the U.S. when the president announces precipitous withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan by tweet before consulting with our partners or Congress, much less his own advisers?” A Senate institutionalist, Coons understands the constitutional imperative and practical advantage for involving Congress in voting on crucial foreign policies, such as continuing membership in NATO, and U.S. troop levels in South Korea and Japan.
He has also advocated Congress clawing back war-making power from the executive branch, calling for a new Authorization for Use of Military Force to replace the 2001 and 2002 authorizations. There is a “constitutional and moral quandary” in the fact that only 108 (20 percent) of the 535 members of today’s Congress were in Congress when these AUMFs were passed. A new AUMF should, Coons said, “implicitly allow the president to deploy ground combat forces,” but should “ensure that Congress votes on any deployment” with a mission “beyond the scope of our current operations.” And a new AUMF must expire or be explicitly reauthorized in five years.
Coons knows what produced Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 1993, Coons, then 29, visited Russia and saw humiliation in the faces of widows “selling their late husbands’ war medals for kopecks so they could feed their families.” On July 16, 2018 — the day Trump in Helsinki sided with Putin against the U.S. intelligence agencies regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election — Coons delivered a speech describing Putin as “a persistent danger to our democracy, to our European allies, to democracy globally, and to the rule of law.” Coons added: “Putin will only stop when we stop him.” And Coons noted that the number of Republicans viewing Putin more favorably had more than doubled in Trump’s first two presidential years.
Coons is keenly interested in Africa, whose population, he says, “is projected to double to two billion by 2050.” Nigeria has a middle class of 50 million and by 2050 is expected to be one of the world’s five most populous nations, passing Indonesia, Brazil and Bangladesh. Because 24 out of the 25 nations with the youngest populations are all African (two-thirds of Africans are under 35), by 2034, the continent will have the world’s largest working-age population (1.1 billion).
Three years ago, Coons wrote that something of African origin — Ebola — taught that “we have a largely failed multilateral structure for responding to pandemics.” So, he said, this nation “should lead global efforts to create an international strategy for pandemic response.” Getting the right people, such as Coons, in the right offices, such as secretary of state, can be a matter of life and death.