FT: America Has Chosen To Be Normal (Again)

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For those of you who missed it, Robert Kagan of Brookings wrote an interesting piece in the FT recently, arguing that in electing Donal Trump American has chosen to abandon its global role and to become a “normal” country. In his view, normal simply means a nation more focused on its own interests that in maintaining a global structure, whether or not the existence of that structure does the U.S. any good.

Some excerpts:

Mr Trump, in this respect, is no anomaly. Pat Buchanan rode “America First” a long way against George HW Bush of New World Order fame in 1992; and after the Iraq and Afghan wars and the financial crisis, it became a national phenomenon. Internationalists such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio went nowhere this year; Bernie Sanders joined Mr Trump in attacking global involvement; and Hillary Clinton was hit from all sides for being too internationalist and too wedded to the idea of the US as the “indispensable nation”, the Bill Clinton phrase that encapsulated the thinking of every president from Harry Truman to George W Bush. President Barack Obama was the transitional figure away from that tradition, and Mr Trump’s election is the decisive break. The US is, for now, out of the world order business.

This does not mean a “return” to a mythical American isolationism. This powerful, commercially minded nation has never cut itself off from the rest of the world, not even in the 1930s. What it does mean is a return to national solipsism, with a much narrower definition of American interests and a reluctance to act in the world except to protect those narrow interests. To put it another way, America may once again start behaving like a normal nation…

Enlightenment doesn’t last for ever, however, and with Mr Trump’s election Americans have chosen, as in 1920, a return to normalcy. So what does the normal solipsistic superpower do? It looks for immediate threats to the homeland and finds only one: radical Islamist terrorism. Its foreign policy becomes primarily a counterterrorism strategy. Nations are judged not by whether they are allies or nominal adversaries, democracies or autocracies, only by their willingness to fight Islamists. Mr Putin’s Russia, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, Israel: all are equal partners in the fight and all are rewarded with control, spheres of influence and defence against critics within and without. Most countries, by this calculus, are irrelevant…

As for the projection of US military power abroad, there should be no need. No foreign army threatens the homeland. Nuclear powers can be deterred by America’s nuclear arsenal. (Note to US hawks: there will be no bombing of Iran under a Trump administration.) Almost every intervention of the past 70 years was primarily to defend someone else or to uphold some principle of global order. They were “wars of choice”, not required by a narrow definition of US interests. The war against radical Islamist terror can be fought by drone strikes a few special forces and by our partners on the ground…

How long can this new era last? Who knows? Americans after 1920 managed to avoid global responsibility for two decades. As the world collapsed around them, they told themselves it was not their problem. Americans will probably do the same today. And for a while they will be right. Because of their wealth, power and geography they will be the last to suffer the consequences of their own failures. Eventually they will discover, again, that there is no escape. The question is how much damage is done in the meantime and whether, unlike in the past, it will be too late to recover.

 

 

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1 comments on “FT: America Has Chosen To Be Normal (Again)”

  1. this guy is delusional when he says every intervention was to defend someone else or to uphold a principle of global order. i guess that is the rationalization you need when you are an architect of policies that have incinerated the middle east at the behest of israel.

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