What we are seeing now is nothing less than a radical realignment of America’s foreign policy. Under the guise of “America First” the Trump Administration is steadily destroying the post-war network of military, trade and political alliances among the world’s major democracies. This network was created and sustained over decades by every single Republican and Democratic administration since WW II. This network carried the U.S. to its greatest prestige and power in the world, and is responsible in no small part for the prosperity and peace we and much of the Western world have enjoyed. Due to this network, the idea of another world war among the major powers of Western Europe or Asia, such as ripped the world apart twice before it was created, is now virtually unthinkable. These nations turned their back on the dangerous siren call of nationalism to build something together. And they all benefitted. Most of all the United States.
Trump is busy turning it all to ashes. With threats and bullying he is driving wedges into all of our alliances. He doesn’t understand any of it, nor does he seem to want to understand any of it. In his ignorance and his spite he is behaving like a two-year old having a tantrum, lashing out around him and causing destruction to everything within his reach. He is surrounded by sycophants, enablers and incompetents, and those few advisers he has who know better are unable to sway him or control him. He is destroying the work of men far better than he.
And what will he replace it with? I don’t think he knows or cares. It does seem obvious that he is most comfortable with dictators and autocrats around the world, from Russia’s Putin to Duterte of the Philippines. He admires their “strength”, derived rom the fact that they crush all dissent. He dismisses their human rights abuses. He is jealous of the pomp and circumstance that they celebrate their rule with, and jealous of the way they deal with their critics. He seems to wish he were like them.
And they are delighted. The enemies of America are rejoicing, particularly the Russians. Their prayers have been answered. They have been trying to undermine the Western alliance system for many years. And now the person who should be leading that alliance system is doing it for them. The investment they made in helping him win the Presidency is looking like the best investment they have ever made.
It is not too late. Damage has been inflicted on the institutions of the Western alliance, just as damage has been inflicted on our own democracy in America, but those institutions, both international and domestic, were built strong and robust. They can take a fair amount of damage before buckling completely. But their endurance is not limitless.
There is no doubt that the post-WW II Western alliance system cannot stand forever without American leadership. If and when it falls, we will enter a new and much more dangerous and unpredictable era of our history. An era in which nationalism, the force which ripped the world apart so many times, again becomes dominant. When narrowly defined self-interest dominates the policies of the great powers again. Only now those great powers are all armed with nuclear weapons, or could be quickly if they so desired.
The Trump Administration is not just playing with fire. They are building a bonfire which could consume the world.
We need to take away their matches. That begins in November with the election of a Congress that will be a real check on his dangerous and ignorant plans.