There are many notable aspects of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, but amongst the most important is the apparent separation between America’s interests and its values. In touting the success of President Trump’s first trip abroad, his national security and economic policy advisers write in the Wall Street Journal, “those societies that share our interests will find no friend more steadfast than the United States. Those that choose to challenge our interests will encounter the firmest resolve.”
This formulation is a stark departure for American foreign policy. And H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn admit as much: “This historic trip represented a strategic shift for the United States.” It is a shift away from considering values as a guide to US foreign policy — a shift away from treating countries who share our values differently from those who don’t, and away from considering America’s own values of democracy, freedom, and human rights an integral part of its national interests.
Of course, there is a long tradition of hard-nosed realism in US foreign policy. When dealing with other nations, realists argue, a willingness to bend to circumstance is an asset. In some cases and for certain objectives, the United States must work with nations that it would rather not. Many top leaders and advisers have seen the world this way. George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, and James Baker all come out of this tradition.
Yet, the Trump Administration appears to be taking this much further. In his first trip abroad, President Trump praised Saudi leaders but chided European allies. He posed for photographs with the Egyptian president but pushed aside the prime minister of Montenegro — a new NATO ally. He seemed more at home with authoritarian leaders, with whom human rights were barely mentioned, and more out of sorts with democratically elected leaders of allied countries.
A trend is emerging. President Trump has praised President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines for his deadly, open-ended drug war, which has killed thousands. He has congratulated President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey for further consolidating power through a referendum that was neither free nor fair. He has also praised President Vladimir Putin of Russia on several occasions. And since meeting him at Mar-a-Lago, Trump has referred to Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, as “a good man. A very good man.” At the same time, he has not shied away from picking fights with some allies and partners, including the president of Mexico, prime minister of Australia, and chancellor of Germany.
Ignoring values in our foreign policy is a mistake. Even George Kennan, the grand don of American realism, recognized that there was value in supporting human rights. He wrote in his political memoir in 1993 that US and UN promotion of human rights had produced outcomes that were “in a number of respects beneficial,” particularly in influencing non-democratic regimes. “Even where these regimes have by no means been able to show a perfect human rights record, there has at least been inflicted upon some of them a certain self-consciousness before world opinion — a certain reluctance to be caught out in the more flagrant abuses of human freedom and dignity — which otherwise would have been lacking,” Kennan wrote.
Wise words that the White House should heed. As the articles in This Week’s Reads show, US foreign policy remains a minefield.
Walter Russell Mead / The Wall Street Journal
Donald Trump’s presidency took many by surprise. However, his victory aligns with America’s tendency to vote for outsiders over experts, a pattern that has held since the fall of the Soviet Union 25 years ago. At that time, many politicians adopted an “end of history” mentality; they believed that democracy had won its ultimate battle and that it was only liberal democracies from here on out. The public, however, has always been skeptical. Now, party leadership must consider that globalism might never have appealed to the public and that their utopian vision may be further from their reach than it appears.
Colin Powell / The New York Times
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has strong words for the Trump administration, calling its plan to cut the State Department budget by 30 percent an “American retreat.” Diplomacy and aid, both main targets of the proposed budget cuts, are precisely what the United States needs to address the current global turmoil. A strong military alone is not enough. The State Department and U.S.A.I.D. play vital roles, the former secretary of state says, to help "prevent the wars that we can avoid, so that we fight only the ones we must."
Chancellor Angela Merkel recently delivered a speech to the CSU, the Bavarian sister to her own political party. In it, she made her thoughts on President Trump and Brexit quite clear: “The times in which we could totally rely on others are to some extent over.” Chancellor Merkel’s rising prestige in the international community comes part and parcel with her unconcealed contempt for President Trump. As Germany’s allies to the west grow increasingly isolated and nationalistic, her call for a united Europe should not be mistaken as a bid to replace them. Rather, bashing “Trumpandbrexit” represents a sincere, successful political move toward increasing her party’s domestic popularity.
Walter Russell Mead / The American Interest
President Trump’s comments at the recent G-7 summit have met with sharp criticism for their aggressive tone. While this may have damaged America’s standing with the rest of the world, the leader sof Germany and France are already reaping the benefits of his antagonism. German Chancellor Angela Merkel now sits at a comfortable distance from America, with freedom to voice the discontent that Germans are feeling for America in its current state. Moreover, newly elected Emmanuel Macron now stands to strengthen French ties with Germany, potentially securing French interests in what is likely to be a time of great change in Europe.
Robert F. Worth / The New York Times
Wherever there are atrocities, thousands of personal tragedies surface. An “urban Robinson Crusoe,” a storied manor stripped to the bone by looters, a group of tired and defeated former activists, and streets completely empty of young men: these vignettes and others fill this moving and well-reported article. Robert F. Worth, who once covered a more peaceful Syria, returns to the ruined city that has become "a global byword for savagery." Disentangling the confused, sometimes revisionist, stories of people caught in one of the worst conflicts of this century, Worth tries to answer one question; "What destroyed Aleppo?"
Sohrab Ahmari / Wall Street Journal
Sohrab Ahmari interviews French philosopher Pierre Manent in the Wall Street Journal to get his view on how nationalism is the path to political order. Transnational liberalism of the kind forwarded by the European Union, in which the individual and humanity as a whole are the favored sources identity, is ineffective, Manent argues. Instead, a combination of nationalism and liberalism is the best method to foster stability, particularly in the West’s interactions with Muslim populations. Such a plan would mean more, not fewer, public expressions of faith in nations such as France. But it would also mean citizens, regardless of faith, hold their national identity in the highest regard.
Jamil Anderlini / Financial Times
Chang Hsien Yi is largely unknown today, now living a quiet life in Idaho. But in 1988 he was at the center of a storm concerning Taiwan’s then-secret nuclear weapons program. Chang has a new book detailing how Taipei nearly joined the nuclear weapons club, but it is gaining attention not simply as history but also because it seems so current. In recent weeks North Korea has fired off a barrage of nuclear and missile tests. Meanwhile, the White House has vowed to put "America First," worrying allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region who might have previously found shelter under the US nuclear umbrella. In response, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan could all start to see having their own nuclear weapons as a necessity.
Janan Ganesh / Financial Times
Think of Gaudi’s Sagrada Família in Barcelona, or The Smiths and other bands that got their start in and around Manchester, or the works of Saul Bellow out of Chicago. “Cities that we call secondary tend to be primary in terms of artistic derring-do,” writes Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. These cities straddle the global stage and the national character in more interesting ways than the so-called first-tier cities of London and New York. In second cities, a nonconformist urban spirit collides with its opposite, Ganesh writes, a nearer representation of the nation as a whole. "Manchester is diverse but still a recognizable part of Britain, far closer to its average income and geographic middle than London," he writes. "Chicago is America incarnate."
Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg / Wall Street Journal
Kenton, Ohio, is profiled in this Wall Street Journal essay on the plight of small-town America. In a number of measures – poverty, college attainment, teenage births, divorce, death rates from heart disease and cancer – rural counties are now ranking among the worst in the country. Crime and opioid abuse are on the rise as well. Two decades ago, inner cities seemed to be the most problem-prone areas in the country, yet now cities are recovering. The authors note that the nearest big city to Kenton, Columbus, has seen its population and median household income rise. What will become of rural America, however, is yet to be seen.
Will Marshal / The Daily Beast
The recent uptick of populism in the West has sparked concern in the liberal community. While European countries have rejected populist candidates in several recent elections, most center-left political parties have become ineffectual at garnering serious support from their voters. This problem is exacerbated in the United States, where only around a quarter of the population identifies as liberal. The moderates and independents of the West may remain opposed to neo-nationalist rhetoric, but they cannot put their support behind unchanging parties that fail to represent their interests. There is an answer, however. Emmanuel Macron’s new brand of "radical pragmatism" may signal a new way forward.