Hey, world, me first

The pres­i­dent chooses na­tion­al­ism over the planet

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By Max Boot hy did Max Boot, a con­tribut­ing writer to Opin­ion, is a se­nior fel­low at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions.

WPres­i­dent Trump de­cide to with­draw from the 2015 Paris cli­mate agree­ment? It is, af­ter all, a non­bind­ing ac­cord de­pen­dent on vol­un­tary com­mit­ments to re­duce green­house emis­sions. Pres­i­dent Obama pledged fairly ag­gres­sive ac­tion by the U.S., in­clud­ing sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tions in emis­sions from power plants that run on fos­sil fu­els. But it would be easy to undo his pro­posed cut­backs with­out leav­ing the Paris agree­ment.

In fact Trump has al­ready done that. In March, he signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der “aimed,” in CNBC’s words, “at rolling back a num­ber of Obama-era cli­mate poli­cies.”

This ac­tion sparked crit­i­cism from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, but was not big news to the world at large. So why pro­voke a global firestorm of crit­i­cism? Why join Syria and Nicaragua as the only na­tions to re­nounce the Paris agree­ment? For Trump, the crit­i­cism is pre­cisely the point. It’s an easy way for him to sig­nal to his base that he is im­ple­ment­ing his cam­paign rhetoric of “na­tion­al­ism” over “glob­al­ism.”

It’s the same rea­son he pulled out of the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, a pro­posed free trade zone among 12 Pa­cific na­tions.

And the rea­son he al­most pulled out of NAFTA be­fore re­luc­tantly promis­ing to rene­go­ti­ate it.

And why on his re­cent jaunt to Europe he re­fused to af­firm Ar­ti­cle V, the mu­tual de­fense pro­vi­sion of NATO.

Trump, mar­ried three times, is al­ler­gic to bind­ing com­mit­ments. He has al­ways been “me first” in his pri­vate life — his foun­da­tion no­to­ri­ously in­vested in Trump por­traits, not in ac­tual char­i­ta­ble works — and pre­dictably his for­eign policy is “Amer­ica First.”

Give Trump points for con­sis­tency: It turns out he has not been tamed by the “grown-ups” in his ad­min­is­tra­tion, such as chief eco­nomic ad­vi­sor Gary Cohn, na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor H.R. McMaster, and Sec­re­tary of De­fense James N. Mat­tis. But in pur­su­ing a rad­i­cal, quasi-iso­la­tion­ist for­eign policy, he is putting Amer­ica’s true in­ter­ests last.

The U.S. does not ben­e­fit when the law of the jun­gle pre­vails, as it did in 1914 and 1939. The U.S. has ex­pe­ri­enced an un­prece­dented pe­riod of peace and pros­per­ity in the post-World War II era pre­cisely be­cause the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion, hav­ing paid the cost of post-1918 iso­la­tion­ism, chose to pur­sue a more mag­nan­i­mous vision of Amer­i­can power.

Rather than try­ing to im­pov­er­ish our one­time ad­ver­saries, we re­built Ger­many, Italy and Ja­pan as eco­nomic pow­er­houses closely al­lied with the United States. Rather than go­ing it alone, we built up a whole net­work of strong in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions — the United Na­tions, the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund, the World Bank, the Gen­eral Agree­ment on Tar­iffs and Trade (now the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion), NATO and other, shorter-lived se­cu­rity or­ga­ni­za­tions such as SEATO and the Baghdad Pact — de­signed to pro­mote the rule of law around the world.

The United States’ critics were al­ways sus­pi­cious of this in­sti­tu­tion-build­ing, be­cause they saw it as a cover for Amer­i­can hege­mony, and they were in large mea­sure right. But it was a benev­o­lent hege­mony that ben­e­fited both the U.S. and our al­lies with­out threat­en­ing any­one who did not al­ready threaten us.

This is the rea­son no in­ter­na­tional coali­tion arose to re­sist Amer­i­can power as one did to re­sist ev­ery pre­vi­ous would-be hege­mon from Philip II’s Spain and Napoleon’s France to Hitler’s Ger­many and Stalin’s Soviet Union.

There has al­ways been plenty of anti-Amer­i­can­ism around the world, but at the end of the day most na­tions un­der­stood that an al­liance with the United States would en­hance, not di­min­ish, their peace and pros­per­ity. We did not al­ways im­ple­ment our ideals — hypocrisy is the coin of the realm in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs — but the se­cret of our suc­cess was that we were a rel­a­tively be­nign su­per­power that cham­pi­oned a vision of hu­man dig­nity that ap­pealed to or­di­nary peo­ple ev­ery­where.

Trump seems obliv­i­ous to this re­al­ity. He sees ev­ery in­ter­na­tional treaty as a racket and ev­ery al­liance as a ripoff. But by de­stroy­ing the foun­da­tions of the in­ter­na­tional or­der that the U.S. built, he risks de­stroy­ing the un­prece­dented power and wealth we have ac­cu­mu­lated since 1945.

If the U.S. pur­sues a “me first” policy, then ev­ery coun­try in the world will do the same — and the re­sult will be in­ter­na­tional law­less­ness. Preda­tory states such as Iran, Rus­sia and China will do well in the re­sult­ing chaos, while our al­lies — if we have any left — will suf­fer. If his­tory is any guide, the U.S. will not be able to stay aloof from the con­se­quences of this new dis­or­der: Our trade and se­cu­rity will be im­per­iled. Ul­ti­mately we are likely to be drawn into con­flicts that could have been avoided had we main­tained our po­si­tion as Leader of the Free World, a hard-won achieve­ment that Trump ap­pears in­tent on frit­ter­ing away with his char­ac­ter­is­tic reck­less­ness and thought­less­ness.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.