Over the last week, three foreign policy events have dominated the news cycle: The Russian seizure of Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait; the CIA’s discovery that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi; and the storming of our southern border by the Central American migrant caravan. Only one of these, however, involves American rights and American interests.
United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, speaking on behalf of “the highest level at the American government,” declared Russia’s actions “reckless” and “an outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory.” Three small Ukrainian ships — the largest among them was a tugboat — were captured when trying to pass under Russia’s newly-built Crimean bridge spanning the Kerch Strait, a waterway connecting the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea.
Ukraine’s U.S.-backed president Petro Poroshenko (who is polling at about 10 percent) seized this opportunity to declare martial law, giving himself the ability to postpone Ukraine’s presidential elections. With President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin set to meet this week, this could raise tensions between the two leaders and jeopardize any potential cooperation.
And last Tuesday, the CIA concluded with “high confidence” that MBS ordered the killing of Khashoggi.
But Khashoggi was not an American citizen, nor was his murder on American soil. It was at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. He was a Muslim Brotherhood associate and former acquaintance of Osama bin Laden. In other words, he was an unsavory character, killed by another unsavory character.
Trump’s statement does not rule out MBS as the killer, but points out that regardless of what MBS did, the Saudis agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the U.S. The Saudis have likewise agreed to keep oil prices down. To cancel these contracts and jeopardize these deals would be foolish, Trump warned, and would allow Russia or China to fill the void.
On Twitter, Sen.-elect Mitt Romney (R‑Ut.) said that Trump’s statements do not align with “American greatness.” But Trump’s statement reads loud and clear: He is putting American interests first. Unlike his predecessors, he will not try to force other countries to be free.
It is not the role of the U.S. government to guarantee Ukrainian ships free passage through the Kerch Strait, nor is it our duty to guarantee the right to free speech for foreign nationals located halfway around the world.
It is, however, the role of the U.S. government to secure our nation and promote our national interest. This leads to the story most relevant to American citizens: The migrant caravan attempting to “bum rush” the border earlier this week. On Nov. 25, over 1,000 caravan migrants charged the border, hurling rocks and bottles at border patrol agents. Four agents were hit by these projectiles, over 60 migrants were arrested, and Customs and Border Patrol was forced to close the San Ysidro Port of Entry in southern California.
“The majority are men…and have not articulated the need for asylum,” an MSNBC reporter said. If they were truly asylum-seekers, they could have requested it in Mexico — the Mexican government even offered several hundreds of migrants asylum several weeks ago.
“This has nothing to do with asylum,” Trump said. “This has to do with getting into our country illegally.”
Trump also called the caravan an “invasion,” and refused to retract the statement, even after outcry from both the left and right.
“Criminals are everywhere,” one member of the caravan told Fox News.
What word is more apt than “invasion?” How else are we to understand a group of mostly military-aged males marching on our border, waving foreign flags the whole way?
“The U.S. government shall protect each [state] against invasion,” guarantees Article IV of the Constitution.
Unlike the Kerch Strait (how many U.S. citizens could point to it on a map?), and Khashoggi, this is an issue where the American government must act. American rights and interests are at stake, and it is our government’s duty to defend them.
The good news: Unlike Saudi Arabia, the right to free speech still lives in American society (although it is increasingly threatened). The right to a free, fair, and open press still exists, too. (And it would be nice if we actually had one.)
The bad news: The border between Russia and Ukraine, in the minds of our ruling class, is more sacred than our own.
Garrison Grisedale is a senior studying Politics.