Trump’s radical departure from postwar foreign policy

June 5, 2017

Trump’s radical departure from postwar foreign policy

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

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The Doctrine is…screw everybody if you can while we compete when we can

We now have a Trump Doctrine, and it is, at least in its conception and initial execution, the most radical departure from a bipartisan U.S. foreign policy since 1945. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and national security adviser H.R. McMaster say that President Trump has “a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.” The senior officials add: “Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.” That embrace has now led the United States to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, signed by 194 other parties.

The “elemental” aspect of international relations has existed for millennia. The history of the human race is one of competition and conflict. U.S. foreign policy has amply reflected this feature. The United States has the world’s largest military and intelligence apparatus, troops and bases in dozens of countries around the world, and ongoing military interventions on several continents. This is not the picture of a nation unaware of political and military competition.

But in 1945, the world did change. In the wake of two of the deadliest wars in human history, with tens of millions killed and much of Europe and Asia physically devastated, the United States tried to build a new international system. It created institutions, rules and norms that would encourage countries to solve their differences peaceably — through negotiations rather than war. It forged a system in which trade and commerce would expand the world economy so that a rising tide could lift all boats. It set up mechanisms to manage global problems that no one country could solve. And it emphasized basic human rights so that there were stronger moral and legal prohibitions against dehumanizing policies such as those that led to the Holocaust.


It didn’t work perfectly. The Soviet Union and its allies rejected many of these ideas from the start. Many developing nations adopted only some parts of the system. But Western Europe, Canada and the United States did, in fact, become an amazing zone of peace and economic, political and military cooperation. Certainly there was competition among nations, but it was managed peacefully and always with the aim of greater growth, more freedom and improved human rights.

The “West” that emerged is, in historical terms, a miracle. Europe, which had torn itself apart for hundreds of years because of the “elemental nature” of international competition, was now competing only to create better jobs and more growth, not to annex countries and subjugate populations.

This zone of peace grew over the years, first encompassing Japan and South Korea, and later a few countries in Latin America. It was always in competition and conflict with the Soviet bloc, in traditional geopolitical ways. Then in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and large parts of the world gravitated toward this open international order.

At the heart of the system was the United States, which had tried to create such an enterprise after World War I but failed. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, learning from those mistakes, advanced a new set of ideas as World War II was drawing to a close. This time, it worked.

Since then, every president of either party has recognized that the United States has created something unique that is a break from centuries of “elemental” international conflict. In the past two-and-a-half decades, it has tried to help incorporate hundreds of millions of people, from Mexico to Ukraine, who want to be part of this liberal — meaning free — international order.

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From the start of his political career, Trump has seemed unaware of this history and ignorant of these accomplishments. He has consistently been dismissive of the United States’ closest political, economic and moral allies. He speaks admiringly of strongmen such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte but critically of almost every democratic leader of Europe.

The consequences of Trump’s stance and his actions are difficult to foresee. They might result in the slow erosion of the liberal international order. They might mean the rise of a new, not-so-liberal order, championed by China and India, both of them mercantilist and nationalist countries.

But they could also result, in the long run, in the strengthening of this order, perhaps by the reemergence of Europe. Trump has brought the continent’s countries together in a way that even Putin could not. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Europe must look out for itself and, as if to underscore that fact, the same week welcomed the prime minister of India and the premier of China. French President Emmanuel Macron upheld Western interests and values face to face with Putin, in just the way an American president would have done in the past.

Trump might not cause the end of the Western world, but he could end the United States’ role at its center.

10 thoughts on “Trump’s radical departure from postwar foreign policy

  1. This is an article taking the view of collectivism – assuming Americans are happy to be the center of the world – resulting from an innate human instinct of control. Under the totalitarian ideas such as Islamism and socialism, the instinct of control is combined with political power (either nationally or internationally) to produce a legitimized authoritarian regime. But, American values, as represented better-than-before by President Trump’s policies, will uphold individual liberty over collectivism as the purpose of existence of nations.

    Some nations such as Egypt and Philippines will need somewhat harsher rule than western nations in order to provide stability, on which other better values such as economy development and human right have a chance to grow per the capacity of the underlying cultures. For Egypt, the Islamists must be reined harshly because leniency won’t work. For Philippines, both Islamists, who murder 10 of thousands recently for seizing control of a Island, and drug criminals need to be harshly combated.

    Americans should not export, the developing nations should not import, democracy when the underlying culture is not ready. Egypt under democratically elected Morsi was a much worse hell than moderately harsh dictator President Al Sisi.

    To the heart-attack of leftists (per American political spectrum, no pun intended with the label), Trump’s foreign policy basically says it may be good if a nation has the capability to uphold democracy and human rights, but in case they cannot, it is more important for them to be aligned with American’s trinity – individual liberty, In God/Truth We Trust, and nationalism – to the best of their capability. Those nations that are working toward American Trinity, albeit far from western standard of democracy and human rights, can be partners of the United States. That position is what get him to meet more than 50 Muslim-majority nations and urge them from a room to combat Islamism.

    You may disagree with the idea of prioritizing individual liberty over collectivism, but the idea, whether spouted by Trump or others, is not an aberration of American values. Actually, that is the core of American value, from which democracy and human rights and economic prosperity are just its products, often incidental products.

  2. New York Times Conservative columnist David Brooks reached the same conclusion as Fareed Zakaria – that Trump foreign policy is not reassuring for the world; that it is openly declaring its intent to destroy the world as we know it. Obviously heavily influenced by Steve Bannon, who many had thought had been relegated to backseat by H.R. McMaster, the American people have been fooled again.

    As Trump demonstrates his admiration for authoritarians, more sinister scenarios begin to crystallize. His speech justifying the withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate accord is a frightening exposition of the new Trump Doctrine. It’s Trump thumbing his nose at the world. It’s the US against the world, led by a coterie of plutocrats and their money. It was a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. Koch and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day, as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil.

    The reality is that the evidence points to an ongoing seizure of executive power by Trump that destroys our Constitution in the name of our national security. The big rhetorical question is what we can do about it?

    • Yeah, aitze, the GOP is in disarray. The extreme rightists are putting the party agenda over the country.

      Tony Blair and Dubya should be tried as war criminals. Dubya is actually a very nice and kind person. Dick Chaney and Karl Rove were the evil ones. But as president, Dubya had to responsible. The buck stopped there.

  3. Tying Donald Trump to American Trinity and saying he has anything to do with it is absurd, preposterous and ludicrous, for American Trinity is the invention of radio talk host Dennis Prager and not Trump’s baby. At most you can call American Trinity as Prager’s values, certainly not American “core” values. But I’m certain many Americans buy into these Prager’s values. But I seriously doubt Trump knows what American Trinity is.

    Recently, Dennis Prager argued in a National Review piece that ‘Never Trumpers’ are doing themselves a disservice by refusing to embrace Trump. He wrote: ” When people you know well and admire, and who share your values, do something you strongly oppose, you have two options: (1) Cease admiring them or (2) try to understand them and change their minds.” According to Prager, ‘Never Trumpers’ are largely moral people who will not compromise their standards. Prager does not want to cease admiring his Never Trump friends, because, as he says, “These conservatives have made so many deposits into their moral bank accounts that, in view, their accounts all remain firmly in the black.” So he says his only option is choice number two, above: he is trying to understand them and to change their minds.

    But with all due respect to Dennis Prager, a man I befriended and respect, there is a tertium quid – a third way. He can respect and accept his Never Trump friends and colleagues, rather than trying to change their minds. I’ve been and continue to be a Never Trumper, and I’ve been vocal about it. I didn’t vote for Trump, and find him morally defective. Without going any further into his other failings, on those grounds alone I continue to be vocal regarding his presidency. And that’s my way to “report for duty,” as Prager asks conservatives to do.

    There are two reasons I won’t get on the Trump bandwagon, and they are the same reasons that give Prager a third choice to respect and accept Never Trump conservatives. First, there is a lot to be done culturally and politically for our country right now. Rather than “getting on board” the Trump wagon, we would all be better served if we concentrated on serving our country. Becoming a fanboy of the current mentally sick president is not a requirement for fighting the “civil war” Prager believes America is in. Prager is making an assumption – that fighting “an existential battle for preserving our nation” can only be done via partisan, political means. But that’s not the case. I’m not disregarding political involvement, but supporting an indefensible president is not the only way to serve our nation. By all means, let’s preserve our nation. Let’s raise some good kids and love the people in our lives. Let’s bolster mediating institutions. Conservatives should have an honest talk about nationalism, immigrants, health care, education, the poor, and the American blue-collar class. There is much to be done. It is reductionist and short sighted to think that the only good conservatives can do right now is to get behind a president some of us cannot conscientiously support.

    Second, no matter what happens to Trump and his presidency, we need people who are willing to stand on principle, simply because our country needs to see examples of that. Pro-Trump conservatives should support their Never Trump friends, if for no other reason than because they can show our nation that ideals and morality are more important than power, and that there really are people in this day and age who are willing to forego power in order to stand up for what they believe in. And that alone is good for our country. It is good because it models the very ideals America was founded on: self-restraint, moral principle, courage against the corrupting effects of political power – these are the core values of America. I understand well that there may not be immediate fruit from this, but in the long run it will be good for our souls and for the soul of our nation. And besides, since when are conservatives the slaves of expediency?

    • It must be hard these days to be a Republican with a President like Trump, huh?

      I know cause I was a card carrying member of the Labour Party until Tony Blair invaded Iraq. That day, I quit the party.

    • The last poll shows 96% Trump voter would vote him again if there were an election now, along with another 10% Clinton voters would switch to him. It is not hard to be Republican nowadays in general. I should join the party soon.

  4. I should join the party soon.

    Could you cite the source of these numbers ?

    You do realize that elections are not won on voter base, right ?

    Sounds like you are already a member of the Trump party.

    • Conrad, that figure came from Breitbart, the source of all lies and evils making the fake news from Fox News pale in comparison. You’ll find all the distorted facts and lies the NPD Trumpanzees in the United States echo come from mainly three sources – Breitbart, Infowars, and Fox News.

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