A re­ally bad deal for Amer­ica

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - — Cour­tesy: The New York Times Eliot A Co­hen

DON­ALD J. Trump can be seen as a tal­ented dem­a­gogue, or as the man­i­fes­ta­tion of deep patholo­gies in the body politic, but he is also the bearer of ideas — crudely framed and some­times in­co­her­ent, but ideas none­the­less. Nowhere is this more true than on for­eign pol­icy. In the ad­dress he de­liv­ered on this sub­ject last month, some el­e­ments could have been ut­tered by any main­stream Amer­i­can politi­cian in the last half­cen­tury: that the United States should have the world’s most pow­er­ful mil­i­tary; that we de­sire to live peace­fully with all na­tions, in­clud­ing Rus­sia and China; that Iran can­not be al­lowed to de­velop nu­clear weapons; that Is­rael is a close friend; that res­traint is a hall­mark of strength.

Other themes echoed views ex­pressed by Pres­i­dent Obama and his ad­vis­ers: that our al­lies are free rid­ers; that the Mid­dle East is a mess to be shunned; that it is time for “na­tion build­ing” at home; that the for­eign pol­icy es­tab­lish­ment is filled with over-ed­u­cated in­com­pe­tents rightly de­spised by a su­pe­rior pres­i­dent and his aides. And then there was the dis­tinc­tively Trumpian touch: his slo­gan “Amer­ica first” in­vok­ing the no­to­ri­ous move­ment be­fore World War II that in­cluded not only tra­di­tional iso­la­tion­ists but also Nazi sym­pa­thiz­ers.

Fun­da­men­tally, much of the dif­fer­ence be­tween Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama re­flects style rather than sub­stance. Mr. Obama came in scorn­ing what he saw as the mis­guided “free­dom agenda” of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and de­ter­mined to cut deals with Pres­i­dent Vladimir V. Putin of Rus­sia and, as we now know, with Iran un­der Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei. Mr. Trump merely takes these views some steps fur­ther and deci­bels louder. He re­jects what he terms “ide­ol­ogy” in for­eign pol­icy, in­clud­ing long­stand­ing Amer­i­can com­mit­ments to demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ments and civil lib­er­ties. He ad­mires Mr. Putin, thinks free trade is a syn­onym for bad deals, and scoffs at a unique Amer­i­can role as guar­an­tor of world or­der.

Vot­ers should ex­am­ine Mr. Trump’s state­ments closely not just be­cause of what they mean for the Repub­li­can Party, but what they im­ply for the two-gen­er­a­tion-old Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy con­sen­sus. Even in this era of par­ti­san­ship, there has been a large mea­sure of agree­ment be­tween the two par­ties, ce­mented by of­fi­cials, ex­perts and aca­demics who shared a com­mon out­look. That out­look held that Amer­i­can in­ter­ests were in­eluctably in­ter­twined with Amer­i­can val­ues, and that when pos­si­ble, each should re­in­force the other, as when the pro­mo­tion of lib­erty and hu­man rights helped to weaken the Soviet Union. An open trad­ing or­der and an un­flinch­ing com­mit­ment to al­liances, as in­dis­pens­able as they are some­times frus­trat­ing, have also been ax­iomatic.

Repub­li­can for­eign pol­icy veter­ans like me who have ve­he­mently op­posed a Trump can­di­dacy have done so on mul­ti­ple grounds, be­gin­ning with his dis­dain for the norms of the Con­sti­tu­tion. But we also be­lieve that Trump­ism in for­eign pol­icy is dan­ger­ous be­cause of its bel­liger­ent na­tion­al­ism, self-ab­sorp­tion, dis­dain for al­lies and com­fort with the au­thor­i­tar­ian lead­ers of the day. On for­eign pol­icy, Hil­lary Clin­ton is far bet­ter, so why not vote for her? This cam­paign shows that the for­eign pol­icy con­sen­sus that has framed this coun­try’s work over­seas since 1950 is in peril. The left wing of the Demo­cratic Party be­lieves in it no more than does Mr. Trump. That con­sen­sus, with its at­tempt to rec­on­cile val­ues and in­ter­ests, pru­dence with ac­tion, needs to be ar­tic­u­lated and cham­pi­oned. The pub­lic must hear why Amer­i­can lead­er­ship abroad is es­sen­tial to our pros­per­ity and free­dom at home.

There is a wide gulf be­tween those who have thought hard about and worked on the chal­lenge of Amer­i­can global lead­er­ship and those who as­sure the Amer­i­can peo­ple that for­eign pol­icy can be re­duced to “don’t do stupid stuff.” To­day, the Trump and Obama ver­sions of that sen­ti­ment are as­cen­dant. It is the task of those of us in the for­eign pol­icy field, Repub­li­can and Demo­crat alike, to make the case that they are pro­foundly, dan­ger­ously wrong. The writer was the coun­sel­lor of the US State Depart­ment from 2007 to 2009.

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