America has unofficially been tasked with the defense of its allies for nearly seven decades. Despite blowing it big with the debacle that became of Vietnam, and barely making due in Korea, and more recently spending trillions in the Middle East with little to show for it, America has maintained its place as the world’s defender of freedom. All this appears to be changing with the election of Donald Trump.
Americans are tired of funding the defense of their so-called allies. Trump has tapped into that frustration and aims to reduce America’s role in defending other nations. However, with hardline neocons in the mold of an Eliot Cohen finding places to operate within Trump’s government, it will be difficult to change America’s course says Chris Preble, Cato Institute’s vice president for defense and foreign policy studies.
For their part, U.S. officials would occasionally protest that U.S. allies had gone too far in their neglect of hard power. Complaints about free-riding and inadequate burden-sharing were a perennial theme in speeches by American secretaries of Defense and State. But privately, U.S. leaders preferred a world in which military power was wielded mainly by a single country rather than by many. The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens summarized this sentiment, writing that “America is better served by a world of supposed freeloaders than by a world of foreign policy free-lancers.”
President Trump obviously feels differently. His slogan “America First” hearkens back to the days, prior to World War II, when Americans strenuously resisted active involvement in the wars raging in Europe and Asia. The mere suggestion that a President Trump might turn his back on 70-plus years of U.S. global leadership mobilized a bipartisan array of foreign policy #NeverTrumpers who were determined to block his path to the presidency.
For one thing, inertia is a powerful force, and the durability of the status quo is compounded by established institutions and bureaucracies populated by people who do not share the President’s worldview.
Full-throated #NeverTrumpers such as Eliot Cohen haven’t been invited to join the administration, but other advocates of the foreign policy status quo, those men and women who avoided criticizing Donald Trump directly and publicly, are in line for some plum assignments. For example, Brian Hook, John Hay Initiative co-founder, and one of Cohen’s co-authors, has been named director of policy planning at the State Department.
Meanwhile, in other governments’ capitals, the mere possibility that Donald Trump will be able to implement his vision for a world order based on sovereign states pursuing their own interests is beginning to sink in. As it does, America’s allies are likely to hedge their bets, and move away from a reliance upon an unpredictable government over which they have no control.
We can celebrate or lament that turn of events, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The only puzzle is that the old model lasted as long as it did.
Read more here.
Debate: When should we go to war?
Originally posted March 13, 2017.