Representative Mike Gallagher is a rising star in Republican foreign policy circles. The 35- year-old congressman represents the eighth district of Wisconsin, which includes the city of Green Bay. He was first elected to Congress in 2016 and served in the military before earning a PHD in International Relations.
He’s very thoughtful, and this conversation offers listeners some key insights into how an emerging leader in Republican foreign policy circles considers American global leadership, the value of multilateralism and international institutions, and role of a values-based foreign policy.
We kick off discussing Iran, before having a broader conversation about US foreign policy writ large.
You listed yourself as an Eisenhower aficionado on your Twitter. I like it when people self-identify that way.
It is a very cool thing to do these days amongst the kids!
Through the Atoms for Peace Program that Eisenhower started, Iran got its first nuclear technology transfer for medical purposes in the 1950’s, and here we are today.
You have out-nerded me on Eisenhower, which is not an easy thing to do.
We are speaking at a moment of profound crisis. Would you support some sort of congressional mandate that Congress use its authority to authorize the use of military force against Iran?
It depends on the content of that authorization. I do not believe that the administration currently has the authority to conduct a sustained campaign against Iran. I think under the War Powers Resolution, should one of our assets be attacked, the President would have a time stamped flexibility to respond in time, but would eventually have to seek congressional authorization.
A strike, such as the one envisioned after the downing of the drone, would not have qualified?
You could make the argument that it is permissible under the War Powers Resolution. But, if Trump were to continue to conduct legal operations against Iran, then he would need authorization. This gets difficult because the Obama administration, in their campaign against Iraq, would trigger separate War Powers Resolutions clocks every time they conducted a new operation in Iraq, effectively extending the clock to infinity. It is always a wise decision, when there is ambiguity, for the President to come to congress and seek authorization.
What would you advise as an appropriate diplomatic course of action for the US?
We need to reinforce the parameters that Mike Pompeo announced a few months ago. Now, these parameters may seem impossible, but they are a sensible starting point. In order to drive Iran to the negotiating table, we need to continue our policy of maximum pressure. We need to slowly and steadily increase economic pressure against the regime in Iran. Most importantly, we need to remember that while the situation is volatile, we hold the upper hand.
How do you balance alienating key allies like France and Germany who consider this a key pillar to their own security against the policy that you just advised, maximum pressure, which includes pressuring European countries against doing business with Iran? How do you balance those priorities?
It is difficult and it is not easy. All of the promises in European businesses immediately inking agreements with the Iranian regime and businesses flooding into the country did not happen as rapidly as some predicted. When we got out of the JCPOA, we did not see the chaos that many proponents of the deal predicted. That shows us something. When given the choice of doing business with the US or Iran, the answer is clear. That is not to be insensitive to our allies. Everything we do on the world stage is stronger in concert with our allies. So, even where we have a disagreement with our allies on this issue, we need to be making the case in good faith about the nature of the regime and the failure of the whole theory of the JCPOA.
You referenced the value of multilateralism. Can you discuss multilateral alliances and the value you attach to institutions like the UN?
I sense there is a sentiment right now that is growing more hostile to multilateral institutions. I understand to the extent that we are surrendering our own sovereignty, that is probably not the right thing to do. However, in defense of the international order, it is one that we built. The US was the author of all of these institutions. At that time, it was in our interest to bring the world to a forum of cooperation. Unless we want to be in the business of doing everything by ourselves, we have to find a way to work by and with our allies. If you buy the premise of the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy, you are left with the conclusion that our most valuable asset in this competition with the Chinese is that we have friends around the world that want to work with us. The core of competition between the US and China comes down to who has better friends. Those of us in public office need to do a better job of explaining to people why it is useful for us to work through IMF, through the UN, and the value of NATO. We are having new versions of old arguments.
There is an argument to be made that the US is not nurturing these alliances.
It is a mixed bag. In the Middle East, the Trump administration has done a great deal to restore our relationships with our traditional regional allies. The Trump administration is astutely harnessing the historic level of cooperation between the Sunni-Arab gulf states and the Israelis in opposition to Iran. In that sense he has restored and enhanced our alliances in the region.
In Asia it is more nuanced. There are a lot of countries that are welcoming renewed attention, and then in Europe there is a bigger question mark. There is a disparity between statements made by the President on Twitter and some of his speeches that talk beautifully about Western alliances. We do need to have a conversation, however, about modernizing NATO.
So, on China, you are sponsoring a resolution to impose restrictions on the transfer of technologies that could be used to abrogate the rights of Uyghurs Muslims in terms of things like facial recognition, which Silicon Valley has provided to the Chinese Government.
There is the Uyghur Act that would mandate that the US create a website for confidential reporting of harassment or surveillance by Chinese Communist Party agents. There is separate legislation that would restrict any US technology that could be used as surveillance technology by the Chinese. Basically, what we are seeing with the concentration camp with over a hundred Uyghur Muslims is a harbinger of things to come. Regardless of whether or not you think we should do something or criticize them; we can do better to make sure our technology does not facilitate this human rights abomination.
It is interesting that people on both sides are willing to engage on Chinese human rights issues now in ways we have not seen before.
In a time of intense partisan division, there is a lot of bi-partisanship on this issue. This is a case where human rights concerns are in alignment with our broader strategic concerns. We can talk loudly about their human rights abuses and get a strategic effect at the same time.
Is there any blowback against the US ability to press human rights in other countries when we have abominations in our own country?
Not at all. In the US, we have a messy political system and that is by design. Our history is rife with mistakes, but ultimately, America is a force for good in this world. We are a generous country. There are complaints that we spend so much on our military and the rest of the world doesn’t. We do that in part because it is in our own interest, but it also provides an enormous service. We are not perfect, but we are the good guys.
Finally, how do you think Eisenhower would judge Trump’s foreign policy so far?
He’d be like – what the hell is Twitter?
Eisenhower was a master of using the press in a strategic way. He may scratch his head at the usage of this new communication, like Twitter. Eisenhower might like that we have tried to modernize and throw more money at the military. He was a master of using his military experience to convince the American people to go along with something that they might have at first been uncomfortable with. He would have been an advocate for staying engaged in the world and talking with people about the value of having friends to work with. The world we built is far more peaceful than the one China and Russia want to build.