china Foreign Policy Katrina vanden Heuvel Russia

Katrina Vanden Heuvel: Do Americans Care About a Cold War With Russia and China?

Americans' top security concerns include safety at home and protecting jobs.
The Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, taken from an airplane in January 2008. David B. Gleason from Chicago, IL, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Katrina vanden Heuvel / The Washington Post

The Biden administration will soon release its National Security Strategy, which is being revised in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The document will no doubt trigger a renewed debate about how the United States should gear up for a new Cold War against Russia and China. But before we plunge into a global great-power competition, it’s worth recalling President Biden’s promise to create a “foreign policy for the middle class” and take a look at what most concerns Americans.

Congress is about to add tens of billions of dollars to the military budget. Unrepentant hawks scorn this as inadequate, urging a 50 percent increase, or an additional $400 billion or more a year. Aid to Ukraine totals more than $40 billion this year, and counting. A new buildup is underway in the Pacific. Biden summons Americans to the global battle between democracy and autocracy, implying that U.S. security depends on spreading democracy — and, implicitly, regime change — worldwide.

Americans, it is safe to say, have different — one might suggest more practical — concerns, as revealed in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. Asked about the most urgent issue facing the country today, 27 percent of respondents — the highest number — ranked inflation as No. 1, while only 2 percent ranked Ukraine at the top. In a range of Economist-YouGov polls over the past month, the top foreign-policy concerns included immigration and climate change.

The foreign policy “blob” may be gearing up for a global Cold War, but Americans are focused on security at home. According to a survey by the nonpartisan Eurasia Group Foundation, nearly half of Americans think the United States should decrease its involvement in other countries’ affairs; only 21.6 percent would increase it. Nearly 45 percent would decrease U.S. troop deployments abroad; only 32.2 percent would increase them.

Polls, of course, are merely snapshots — and war fever can transform opinion. However, a 2021 report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs reported many of the same priorities. Far more Americans (81 percent) said they were concerned about threats from within the country than from outside the country (19 percent). Among foreign policy goals, more than 75 percent of respondents ranked protecting American workers’ jobs and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, respectively, as very important. Ranked lowest were “helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations” (18 percent) and “protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression” (32 percent).

What would a sensible strategy for the middle class look like? A recent paper from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft — “Managed Competition: A U.S. Grand Strategy for a Multipolar World — offers a good start. The author is George Beebe, a former head of the CIA’s Russia analysis unit who is currently director of grand strategy at the institute.

Beebe argues that over the past three decades, “yawning gaps” have emerged not only between “America’s ambitions in the world and its capacity for achieving those goals,” but also between a “Washington foreign policy elite too focused on promoting U.S. primacy” and “ordinary Americans yearning for greater stability and prosperity at home.”

He echoes the priorities of most Americans, arguing that “the chief strategic challenge Washington faces today is not to win a decisive battle between freedom and tyranny but to gain a breathing spell abroad that will allow the country to focus on desperately needed internal recovery.”

He then outlines the core of a strategy for this time: a “managed competition” with Russia and China. Recognizing that our economic health is intertwined with China’s, and that Russia’s nuclear arsenal demands prudence, he would “avoid promoting regime change” or otherwise “undermining political and economic stability in Russia and China.” Instead, in a managed competition, our rivals would be countered not only by American power and alliances, but also by rebuilding “agreed rules of the game,” beginning presumably with efforts to revive nuclear arms agreements and create cyber agreements to limit these growing security challenges.

For this to occur, he notes elsewhere, there must be an agreed end to the war in Ukraine. Beebe concedes that Vladimir Putin’s attack required a strong American-led response. But as when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Beebe would distinguish between repelling Putin’s aggression and efforts to foster regime change in Moscow or to bring Ukraine into the Western orbit.

In the current euphoria over Russian reversals in Ukraine, this caution is likely to fall upon deaf ears. But a foreign policy for the middle class must find a way to curb our adventures abroad so that we can rebuild our democracy and strength at home. A Cold War against Russia and China might empower the foreign policy elite, enrich the military-industrial-congressional complex and excite our bellicose media, but it ignores the American people’s common sense.

Katrina vanden Heuvel
Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel is editorial director and publisher of The Nation, America’s leading source of progressive politics and culture. She served as editor of the magazine from 1995 to 2019.


  1. This has gone way past Cold War already. Given the insane madmen that control the west nuclear war is right around the corner. The Doomsday Clock should be moved up to one second to midnight because we are on the brink without a single sane mind between us and oblivion.

    What do American’s care about??? Besides football….

    This is how it ends people. Soon you will no longer be able to call me a doomsayer, even if you never are willing to call me a prophet. But you don’t need to be a prophet to see what is coming, all you need are two open eyes and a mind free of brainwashing.

    1. Googling the Doomsday clock shows that it’s now at 100 seconds to midnight, “the closest humanity has been to self-destruction.” Credit for this goes to Joe Biden and the Democrats’ warmongering. Can we stop it?

      1. @D.H.Fabian

        What? Putin does not deserve even a little bit of credit? After all the hard work he put in?

  2. Ms. vanden Heuvel,

    Your analysis is absolutely right. This Country is coming apart at the seams due to the staggeringly foolish and wrong-headed decision making by our incompetent leaders. It is deeply ironic that our inability to compete with China has been brought about by the conscious decisions of these leaders to destroy our industrial economy (the adoption of the neoliberal economic policies for the purpose of impoverishing our workers and pushing the income and wealth to the top 1%. While China used its resources to build world class infrastructure and raise 800,000 of its people out of poverty, our great leaders wasted trillions of dollars on the military in order to enrich the weapons manufacturers and in its foolish pursuit of world domination. The interests of the people are, at best, an afterthought in our corrupt electoral/political system. Now we are faced with the very real and imminent danger of nuclear war due to US aggression and the seemingly incurable arrogance of these leaders. We have a State Department infested with neocon warmongers who do not know anything about the practice of diplomacy and have no interest in learning the art. All Mr. Blinken and his fellow incompetents know how to do is to threaten those who do not follow US orders. I know of no one in our government whom I believe has the good sense to put an end to this foolishness. If any such person exists, I am quite certain that he/she is not in the White House or the State Department.

    1. China lifted 800 million people out of poverty, not merely 800,000, which would not have been so jaw-dropping. It is the equivalent of more than the population of everyone in Europe.

      1. @Cynic

        The Chinese ‘economic miracle’ is largely due to two main changes, one local, the other global.

        In the 1980’s China abandoned its strict communist economics, adopted capitalism for most of its economic activities, and maintained state control only on about 30%-40% of its resources. Even under most strict communist oppression, China had always maintained political and economic elites (with perhaps exception of short periods in the CCP bloody history, e.g., during the so-called Cultural Revolution) which are now growing.

        The global change was the reviled (by left-ish, Neo Progressive pundits and flock) Globalization, largely responsible for the majority of manufacturing job loses in the West and their transfer to China, which had become the global manufacturing pit with its almost unlimited cheap labor resources (minimum wage is US$1.66 per hour in Liaoning and US$3.30 per hour in Shanghai), skim to non-existent safety and human rights concerns, and governmental protections against workers’ protests and rights.

        While the Chinese change is commendable, it is important to remember the conditions in which it occurred and the price we all pay for it.

        Pretending it occurred and exists in and of itself doesn’t do anyone and/or anything any good.

  3. Class: the system of ordering a society in which people are divided into sets based on perceived social or economic status.
    The aforementioned dictionary definition, however, is worthless as it says not one word about the power distribution mechanisms in an ideology of separating human beings into subordinate “classes”.
    This is, pure and simple, divide and rule racism!
    History, alas, tells us, it has worked quite well, to this point!
    Racism is nothing more than a formidable tool of capitalist practice.
    This capitalist ideology has nothing to do with ‘Democracy’. It is its antithesis.
    How does the plutocratic American Corpocracy differ one iota from autocracy?
    This is the fraudulent marketing practice promoting Corporation America. It is THE grand deception in action!
    The underlying systems, Monarchies in the lead, based in hierarchical class differentiations, are a crime against humanity.
    Oligarchies, posing as democracies, are next in line.
    Now, the question is, where do all the consummate rhetoricians, past and present, promoting the notions of universal democracy fit, in the this horror show?

    1. nearly wrong entirely—racism has zero relationship to capitalism. indeed capitalism cannot exist–it certainly does not in USA…. “democracy” opposes freedom and justice…monarchy has zero relationship with either hierarchy or class…but this is irrelevant since Americans despise justice morality and love their oppression

  4. What Americans want is to grumble at the rich, enhance the advantages of the middle class, and brutalize the poor. Right?

    1. “in America success is love”. Geoffrey Gorer
      “in america love has been reduced to romance”. Horkheimer/Adorno
      “americans are not at all happy—they feel themselves lacking. all the sensitiveness has dried up in americans…..the crystallization of love is impossible in USA…I do not envy their kind of happiness: it is the happiness of a different and inferior species”. Stendahl
      “americans are threatened by complicated feelings”. Richard Sennet
      “americans have lost the capacity for spontaneous feeling”. Erich Fromm
      “americans cannot feel pure pleasure Slavoj Zizek
      “of all peoples in a advanced stage of economic civilization american are least accessible to long views always and everywhere in a hurry to get rich they give n o though to remote consequences they perceive only present advantages…amerikans do not remember americans do not feel: americans live in a materialist dream”. Moisede Ostrogorski
      “only in amerika do people act like machines are treated like machines and only in america are machine metaphors used to describe human behavior”. Geoffrey Gorer
      “in Russia people regard love as a divine madness that descends from the heavens…the sociologist Julia Lerner explains: for Russians love is a destiny a value a moral act–it requires sacrifice…Russians measure each other according to the upheavals love brings with it…but in america people choose their attachments the way they choose a toaster…they ask do I feel comfortable asserting my rights in the relationship, are my needs fulfilled does s/he check all the right boxes…if the Russian model is too reckless the american model involves too much calculation and gamesmenship….the dating market becomes a true market”. Adbusters 2019
      “for an american poverty is an embarrassment; for a Serb it is a socratic symbol of family unity of struggle”. Emir Kustriricia
      “as one digs deeper into the national character of americans one sees they have sought the value of everything in this world according to the answer to a single questions: how much money will it bring in?” Tocqueville
      “americans are the most prudish in western civilization: they sublimate their desire by chasing the dollar”. Sigmund Freud
      “the artificial sexual scarcity in america derives from the american money neurosis. americans have always been genocidal enjoying killing from afar”. Philip Slater
      “americans cannot provide each other sexual pleasure….the cult of sincerity: americans are not sincere–it is a performance”. David riesman

  5. Of course Katrina is correct, but it needs to go further. The US “democracy” does not take into account the needs and desires of the population, as has been shown in all studies. pretending you help other nations when you invade and destroy is ludicrous. Read William Blum’s “Rogue State” for example!!
    “Beebe concedes that Vladimir Putin’s attack required a strong American-led response.” WHY????? Russia is next door, had waited 8 years using UN-supported peace plans after the US overthrow of the Ukrainian government while the US encouraged and armed the recalcitrant leaders and encouraged NATO to interfere, crossing the redlines of Russian needs for security. Why is the USA allowed to take over anyone it chooses, and Russia is not allowed any security or respect?

  6. americans care about torture imperialism anti-depressants cocaine fake news television designed for the 9 year old mind and money

  7. The Pentagon solved the problem of public interest in foreign affairs by substituting a volunteer force for a dsred cross-section of America. Everyone lauds the “heroes”but only their families case. These people are domestic mercenaries — riddled with white supremacists and facistic “thinkers” — an ideal force for restoring order if things get too dicey at home.

    A serious adversary will concentrate on killing as many as possible of these difficult-to replace people as quickly as possible if hostilities erupt.

  8. True we need to reduce the military spending and increase spending on the needs of the. People. Now

    1. That would also slow inflation, Al Wilson.
      Why haven’t our leaders and wannabes thought of that.

  9. It dies not look like after reading some of the reply to the article that the world and the US gave a good,decent or
    any future unless things change soon and very drastically.The ruling.class can not afford change to their.control and power as well as their profits from War.Unless the political situation changes the people have no.chance of life,liberty and the pursuit.of happiness.

  10. Katrina vanden Heuvel — now voice of the Washington Post.

    I remember when The Nation was worth reading. But that was a very long time ago. Back when Reagan was President. The Nation sold out when Nader ran for President and the supposed lefty ‘Nation’ supported the Clinton-Gore Corporate Machine Democrats. Suddenly The Nation had money, and suddenly Katrina was on CNN.

    I don’t want a “foreign policy for the middle class’ like the elite readers of the mouthpiece of one of the world’s richest people. I want a foreign policy for ordinary Americans, the people Katrina left behind long, long ago as she began climbing the ladder of the rich and famous.

  11. These comments are accurate but depressing.There is no way out.for the workers of the US.The rich think.they.are survive,they are mistaken.

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