Trump could have been the dealer of the free world
Donald Trump cannot be, and perhaps never wished to be, the leader of the free world, the burden which has fallen on the shoulders of Oval Office occupants since World War Two. America First means America Withdrawn.
But he could still have been the dealer of the free world, taking his 1987 book “Trump: The Art of the Deal” and applying to international affairs its precepts on how to get the better of any negotiation. Had he done so with at least an eye to Western as well as American interests, it might have benefited us all.
But it seems Trump doesn’t want to be the free world’s dealer either. His performance next to a triumphant Vladimir Putin after their July 16 Helsinki meeting shamed all democrats. When a U.S. president so lauds a man like Putin, when he treats a summit– as a warm buddy-bath of meaningless assurances and compliments, then more than the American republic is at enormous risk.
America’s most intimate allies – the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia are now in the hapless posture of trying to retain a “special relationship” with a president who has fun insulting them, as he did with Canadian premier Justin Trudeau after refusing to sign the G7 joint statement following the group’s meeting in Canada and as he did with British Prime Minister Theresa May, when, as her guest during a visit to the UK, he chided her for not listening to his advice to leave the EU.
We are witnessing a sustained attack on an assumed system of liberal values by the figure who most of all has been tapped, in post-war times, to protect them. The U.S. National Defense Strategy rightly saw the world as one where rival powers, led by China, now seek to reduce the West’s hegemony over a world where some version of a liberal order is protected, most of all by the United States.
For the present, the most important question is how far the West will continue to be able to defend and project liberal democratic values. The young almost everywhere have become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, and less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, according to research by the political scientists Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa. Yet, according to Richard Fontaine and Daniel Twining, writing in Foreign Affairs, Washington is “hardly playing defense” against the offensive by Beijing and Moscow – much less “championing a robust agenda for protecting and enlarging the free world.”
Some U.S. presidents have been better than others at making such a robust agenda a central goal of their policy. In recent times, George W. Bush, who himself seemed to favor an “America First” policy when he took over the presidency, opened his second term by promising “to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture.” Barack Obama was no America Firster, but did wish to set limits on the world policeman role, and encouraged allies, especially in Europe, to play a larger part in upholding global liberal values. Both men proclaimed liberty as at the core of their foreign policy aims. The 45th president does not.
Thus, from Donald’s adventures in the lands of the Europeans, we must recognize that these values must be fought for without his help – indeed, at times, with his opposition. The rot, like that of a fish, has started at the head. We can only hope it doesn’t reach too far before a new head is found.