Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Editor’s Corner Winter 2017
Editor’s Corner Winter 2017

Editor’s Corner Winter 2017

In These Pages

This special issue of Orbis features articles by FPRI associates offering “advice to the next president.” Written before the election, these essays offer recommendations for national security affairs in general, as well as for regional issues.

Kori Schake leads things off by looking at the national security challenges that the next president will face, the most important of which is building a domestic consensus regarding America’s place in the world. Michael Clarke and Anthony Ricketts examine the role of U.S. strategic culture in shaping that consensus. Nick Gvosdev argues that the next president must shift the focal point of decision-making away from the national security bureaucracy and the Cabinet in favor of the “palace” of advisors and White House staff.

Ron Granieri suggests that the next president should pursue a course of realistic engagement that nonetheless recognizes the limits of American power. Next, Frank Hoffman offers advice about sizing and shaping the U.S. military. Wayne Schroeder looks at the role of the defense budget in support of U.S. military power.

Turning to regional issues, John Haines considers future U.S.-Russian issues. June Teufel Dreyer examines U.S. relations with China, and Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes discuss how to confront China’s rising naval power. Sumit Ganguly then offers advice on U.S.-India relations and an approach to South Asia, while Jerome Kahan addresses U.S. options in response to an Iranian breakout from the nuclear deal with the United States. Finally, John Haines makes an encore discussing what a Trump defense policy might look like.

In our book review section, Evan D. McCormick reviews The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft, edited by Hal Brands and Jeremi Suri. Also, Yuval Weber reviews two books on the current state of the BRICs.

Impromptus and Asides: Trump and U.S. Foreign Policy

Donald Trump’s election has sent shock waves across the country, indeed around the world. Pollsters and pundits have tied themselves in knots trying to explain how they could have been so wrong about Trump’s prospects. But the election has been decided. The real question now is: how will he govern, especially when it comes to American foreign policy?

The U.S. foreign policy establishment generally has been dismissive of a Trump presidency. Many (including me) signed open letters opposing his election on foreign policy grounds. In my own case, it seemed that Trump, despite his tough talk, was essentially in agreement with President Barack Obama in rejecting the bipartisan grand strategy of “primacy” that the United States pursued from the end of World War II until Obama took office.

The purpose of this approach was to underwrite a liberal world order based on free trade and the law of nations. Its advocates contended that this bipartisan foreign policy was very much in the interests of the United States and its friends and allies. It included alliances and support for international institutions including the United Nations and the Bretton Woods economic system, justified by the belief that war and depression can best be avoided in a world where the interests of states are not always at odds but can be coordinated by diplomacy, trade, commerce, and global finance. The trade wars of the 1930s generated by mercantilist policies and economic nationalism that fueled global depression helped to plunge the world into a real and devastating war in 1939.

Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements raised red flags for much of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. For instance, in a New York Times interview before the election, Mr. Trump said that if NATO members were not “paying their bills,” they should not expect the United States to automatically come to their aid. He suggested that he would review member contributions to the alliance and that “if they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.” But this constitutes a rejection of Article 5 of the treaty—its cornerstone—which requires members of NATO to come to the defense of other states in the alliance if they are attacked.

He also called into question the idea of “forward defense.” Posting American troops in “forward deployed” positions around the world is very expensive. “If we ever felt there was a reason to defend the United States, we can always deploy” from American soil, he said. Mr. Trump also rejected the idea of “shaping” the policies of other states, removing American “values” from the U.S. relationship with other states and refusing to transform their actions.

Trump’s appeal seems to be the result of a growing consensus on the part of many American citizens that primacy had evolved from an instrument in support of U.S. interests to one justifying a putative U.S. obligation to support globalist, not American goals, in the interests of a fictional “international community” somehow apart from the United States. No U.S. foreign policy can be sustained in the absence of the support of the American public. But as the election demonstrated, American citizens rejected both the subordination of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy to the “international community,” as well as the overreach of the George W. Bush Administration, in seeking to transform Afghanistan and Iraq into something like a Western-style liberal democracy. What has been missing in U.S. foreign policy for two decades has been prudence, the virtue that Aristotle called most characteristic of the statesman.

The sole purpose of American power is—or should be—to secure the American Republic and to protect the liberty and facilitate the prosperity of the American people. It is not—or should not be—to create the “global good,” a corporatist globalism divorced from patriotism or national greatness. The United States does not have a “moral entitlement” to superior power for the global good. We must work constantly at maintaining it. Part of that work is persuading the people (our sovereigns) that it is good and right and in our interest to maintain that power.

A healthy regard for our safety and happiness requires that American power remain supreme. The purpose of American power is not to act in the interest of others, the “international community,” international institutions, or the like. Whether Donald Trump can develop and execute a U.S. foreign policy founded on the basis of prudence remains to be seen.

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