Auchincloss on the China-Iran-Russia axis against U.S. and allies
The Massachusetts native returns to the podcast for a second time to talk China, American foreign policy and the recent Pentagon document leaks
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On the most recent episode of Jewish Insider’s podcast, co-hosts Rich Goldberg and Jarrod Bernstein were joined by Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), a recently appointed member of the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, for a discussion on China, American foreign policy and the recent Pentagon document leaks.
Below are selected portions of the conversation.
The goal of the House Select Committee: “The goal of the committee is to rise above day-to-day politics and chart long-term sound strategy to outcompete the Chinese Communist Party. And to do that, it needs to, one, create shared awareness within the halls of Congress about the scope and severity of the challenge posed by the CCP, ideological, military, economic. And two, it needs to create shared conviction about a discrete set of policy recommendations that 70% of Congress can get behind. I say 70%, because that means that it’s a durable consensus that will guide foreign policy, regardless of who’s in the White House, and that has majorities within both caucuses — Democrat and Republican as well as of course, within the House itself. That’s really the goal here. We need members to be paying attention, and then we need members to be largely aligned on what to do about it.”
On the importance of global engagement: “I would reject the premise that global engagement is a zero-sum, or even a costly endeavor. The Abraham Accords, for example, are a positive-sum endeavor. The United States is stronger, Israel is stronger, Arab states are stronger because of the Abraham Accords, and spending diplomatic time and spending American prestige on supporting and cultivating the Abraham Accords, that doesn’t cost us anything, that has huge returns, that is beneficial to us. Same thing with engagement with Latin America through Mercosur [the Southern Common Market] or the Organization of American States. That’s to our benefit. What costs us money is when we lie about weapons of mass destruction and spend 15 years fighting in the Middle East. That is expensive. That is why we need members of Congress who are going to call foul on commanders in chief who try to dissemble to the American people and get us bogged down in unwinnable wars. What’s not expensive is diplomacy, trade and investment ties that increase the value of the American operating system worldwide and entices rising nations like Indonesia, Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico, to want to plug in to our set of norms and our rules of the road that we have helped architect since World War II. That’s what we need to be doing more of, and I just don’t see that as zero-sum or expensive, I see that as actually helpful to the American people and also helpful to people the world over.”
How Ukraine and Iran figure in the U.S.-China face-off: “There’s an old proverb: show me who you walk with, and I’ll tell you who you are. Xi Jinping is showing the world who he walks with, he has spent some serious quality time with Vladimir Putin and has doubled down on his economic and military ties with the Ayatollah. And it’s clear that Russia, China and Iran are creating a new axis meant to be a counterweight to NATO, specifically, and really to the United States and its network of global alliances more broadly. It is more critical than ever that we support the Ukrainian people as they fight on the frontlines of the free world. They need every arm, every dollar, every piece of intelligence necessary to make their counter-offensive this spring and summer successful, because NATO’s ability to sustain Ukraine and its fight for sovereignty, freedom and democracy, is a clear alteration of Xi Jinping’s cost benefit analysis for invading Taiwan, and directly affects the balance of power in the Indo Pacific for the next generation. I think Ukraine is an absolute test of the United States and its rules-based order that it’s helped put together.”
On the Pentagon document leaks: “This individual, as you say, alleged to have leaked hundreds of documents, many of which were classified top secret, was a Air National Guardsmen in Massachusetts, lived in my district, 21 years old, junior enlisted. And functionally his role was tech support, which probably indicates how he had access to some of this documentation. You know, when you need people working on hardware and software that’s broken, you do have to give him access to things and that’s probably how he had some access that I think has raised eyebrows. And there’s really a couple of different threads to pull on here. One is, the individual himself and any of his co-conspirators should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. They betrayed their country, they put compatriots overseas at risk, and have undermined U.S. interests. No. 2, the Pentagon is going to have to come to the Hill and answer some tough and pointed questions about why Ukrainian war plans can be printed out in Cape Cod by a junior enlisted Air National Guardsmen. And then finally, obviously, the U.S. needs to do some fence-mending and some fix-up overseas. I’m not grievously concerned about this. I don’t see any indications that anything that’s been unveiled has shocked or permanently unsettled relations, but it is embarrassing and distracting, clearly it would have been better had it not happened, and the most immediate concern is that nothing impair the success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.”
On the state of document over-classification in America today: “We grotesquely over-classify information in this country and it’s usually CYA, not need to know. It’s, this is embarrassing or sensitive, or, well, if it did get out there, I’d probably get in trouble so just better safe than sorry, right? Like, it’s that mentality that accretes across millions of people over decades, and all of a sudden we end up with just a massive over-classification of everything. And unfortunately, that’s not just a bureaucratic issue, that’s a real national security problem. It allows for the kind of mistakes that compounded the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and it took SIGAR, it took the Special Inspector General of Afghanistan reconstruction to plow through a maze of classification and get to the bottom of what had been going on, and what had been going on basically was a bunch of national security officials in Washington had known for 10 years that we weren’t succeeding in Iraq or Afghanistan, but nobody was telling the American people that. Thankfully, Joe Biden finally did. So we need to fix that. And I would argue, that would actually make it easier to be rigorous about that stuff that we really do need to protect, because when you have fewer items that meet those rigorous standards, it’s going to be taken more seriously by those who are obliged to defend them, and it also is going to make it easier to track and to set up the systems and the protocols necessary to keep that information secure.”
On the recent NSA report and where America stands on Afghanistan today: “I continue to support the Biden administration’s decision to end a failed 20-year war in Afghanistan that did not admit of a military solution, but rather had to have political leadership resolve it, and that political leadership, as we saw when the Afghan president fled the country, just did not exist. And I think the president deserves plaudits for having the moral courage to tell the American people that this was not a war that American lives or American treasure should continue to sustain, especially when we had the defining 21st-century threat in the Indo Pacific in the form of the Chinese Communist Party. And the decision he was facing when he took office was not, ‘Oh, should I muddle along with my predecessor? Or should I get out?’ it was rather, ‘Should I surge troops there?’ because he would have had to have broken the Doha Agreement that Trump had signed before him, or ‘Should I leave?’ And surging troops there for a third decade of war would have been a grossly irresponsible thing to do, and this president acted with the decision and the integrity that you would expect from a commander in chief. In terms of Afghanistan now, as you said, the rights of women and girls and economic development in general [in Afghanistan], is bad. I’ve continued to be a supporter of Western-led investments in Afghanistan, particularly in mining, which can lead to organic economic development that can lift up the standards of living for the people there, and I’ve pressed on numerous levers here in Washington to try to get that started. But I do also see promising signs in terms of the United States’ ability to work to execute counterterrorism — we’ve seen us use unmanned aerial systems to take out terrorist leaders — and even to, you know, work with is probably too strong of a word, but at least not work at cross purposes with the Taliban in trying to contain and degrade ISIS-K.”
Bonus lightning round: “Favorite opponent of the Boston Red Sox? “I gotta tell you, my head is all in the Boston Bruins right now. I’m not even thinking about the Boston Red Sox. I’m just pumped about the 65-win season that the Bruins just came off of and what they’re going to do in the playoffs.” Favorite Republican member of Congress to work with? “I work with a number of Republican members of Congress. I’ll tell you who I miss in Congress right now, is Liz Cheney, who was such a moral force last term and with whom I developed a friendship and worked on to sustain support for Ukraine in Congress. I wish she’d come back in that seat.” Favorite Jewish comedian? “I gotta tell you guys, I got two little kids, one more on the way, I’m back and forth, I just don’t have time to listen to comedy. I’ll tell you my favorite comedian, generally, is Nate Bargatze.”