Monday, October 15, 2018

What the Establishment Misses About Trump's Foreign Policy

From Professor Randall Schweller, at Foreign Affairs, "Three Cheers for Trump’s Foreign Policy":

Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 U.S. presidential election heralded nothing less than certain catastrophe. At least, that was and remains the firm belief of “the Blob”—what Ben Rhodes, a foreign policy adviser in the Obama administration, called those from both parties in the mainstream media and the foreign policy establishment who, driven by habitual ideas and no small amount of piety and false wisdom, worry about the decline of the U.S.-led order. “We are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight,” the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman forecast after Trump’s victory. Others prophesied that Trump would resign by the end of his first year (Tony Schwartz, the co-author of Trump: The Art of the Deal), that he would be holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in six months (the liberal commentator John Aravosis), or that the United States might be headed down the same path that Germany took from the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich. That last warning came from former U.S. President Barack Obama last December at the Economic Club of Chicago, where he invoked the specter of Nazi Germany. “We have to tend to this garden of democracy or else things could fall apart quickly,” he said. “Sixty million people died, so you’ve got to pay attention—and vote.”

So far, the world has not come to an end, far from it. A year into Trump’s first term, the Islamic State, or ISIS—a fascist organization, by the way—had been virtually defeated in Syria and eliminated from all its havens in Iraq, thanks to the Trump administration’s decision to equip the largely Kurdish militia fighting ISIS in Syria and give U.S. ground commanders greater latitude to direct operations. All the while, Trump has continued the Obama doctrine of avoiding large-scale conventional wars in the Middle East and has succeeded where his predecessor failed in enforcing a real red line against Bashar al-Assad’s use of nerve gas in Syria by launching targeted air strikes in response. In North Korea, Trump’s strategy of “maximum pressure” has cut the country’s international payments by half, forcing Kim Jong Un to realize that his only choice is to negotiate.

On the domestic front, the unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent in May, a level not seen since the heady days of the dot-com boom—with unemployment at an all-time low among African Americans; at or near multidecade lows among Hispanics, teenagers, and those with less than a high school education; and at a 65-year low among women in the labor force. Meanwhile, on Trump’s watch, the stock market and consumer confidence have hit all-time highs, the number of mortgage applications for new homes has reached a seven-year high, and gas prices have fallen to a 12-year low. Finally, with Trump pledging to bring to an end the era in which “our politicians seem more interested in defending the borders of foreign countries than their own,” illegal immigration was reduced by 38 percent from November 2016 to November 2017, and in April 2017, the U.S. Border Patrol recorded 15,766 apprehensions at the southwestern border—the lowest in at least 17 years.

As his critics charge, Trump does reject many of the core tenets of the liberal international order, the sprawling and multifaceted system that the United States and its allies built and have supported for seven decades. Questioning the very fabric of international cooperation, he has assaulted the world trading system, reduced funding for the UN, denounced NATO, threatened to end multilateral trade agreements, called for Russia’s readmission to the G-7, and scoffed at attempts to address global challenges such as climate change. But despite what the crowd of globalists at Davos might say, these policies should be welcomed, not feared. Trump’s transactional approach to foreign relations marks a United States less interested in managing its long-term relationships than in making gains on short-term deals. Trump has sent the message that the United States will now look after its own interests, narrowly defined, not the interests of the so-called global community, even at the expense of long-standing allies.

This worldview is fundamentally realist in nature. On the campaign trail and in office, Trump has argued that the United States needs its allies to share responsibility for their own defense. He has also called for better trade deals to level a playing field tilted against American businesses and workers and to protect domestic manufacturing industries from currency manipulation. He is an economic nationalist at heart. He believes that political factors should determine economic relations, that globalization does not foster harmony among states, and that economic interdependence increases national vulnerability. He has also argued that the state should intervene when the interests of domestic actors diverge from its own—for example, when he called for a boycott against Apple until the company helped the FBI break into the iPhone of one of the terrorists who carried out the 2015 attack in San Bernardino, California.

This realist worldview is not only legitimate but also resonates with American voters, who rightly recognize that the United States is no longer inhabiting the unipolar world it did since the end of the Cold War; instead, it is living in a more multipolar one, with greater competition. Trump is merely shedding shibboleths and seeing international politics for what it is and has always been: a highly competitive realm populated by self-interested states concerned with their own security and economic welfare. Trump’s “America first” agenda is radical only in the sense that it seeks to promote the interests of the United States above all...
Still more.