October 5, 2017

This Week's Reads - US Foreign Policy Continuity in an Era of Disruption


Much has been made of how the election of Donald Trump marks a break with the past. But in one important respect, Trump is similar to his immediate predecessors in the Oval Office. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama each campaigned on the promise of a foreign policy more restrained than the previous president's. Each warned, at least at first, that America had been too preoccupied abroad and should instead focus more on issues at home. Each struck a chord with voters, and each won. 

Trump did the same, telling his supporters during the 2016 campaign, “We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism.” He warned against what he called “obsolete” and “unfair” alliances. He also lamented the lives and money lost abroad. Yes, Trump went further than others in his calls for retrenchment, but he, like his predecessors, seemed to find an attentive and persuaded audience in the American public.

Yet the American people, too, follow a sense of continuity in US foreign affairs, as a new Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey reveals. Released on Monday, the survey shows that most Americans remain wedded to the notion that the United States should engage with and shape the wider world, as it has done since 1945.

Sixty-three percent of Americans think the United States should have an active role in the world — a solid majority has thought this ever since the question was first asked in 1974. Majorities of Americans think international trade is good for the US economy (72%), good for consumers like them (78%), and good at creating jobs in the United States (57%). Each of these measures has increased since last year.

Support for America abroad extends to the realm of security as well. Six-in-ten Americans say that alliances with Europe and East Asia are either mutually beneficial or mostly benefit the United States. A full 69 percent of Americans call the postwar alliance NATO “essential” to US security. Majorities support maintaining or increasing the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and Europe.

The conclusion is clear. Most Americans want the United States to be where it has been for decades, at the forefront of building, maintaining, and deepening international institutions. There is no apparent desire for retrenchment in the American public at large, nor is there growing support for an “America First” agenda as described by Trump during his campaign.

Both the president and the American public favor continuity, Trump with past presidents early in their administrations, and the American people with the postwar international order. Yet they are at odds with one another. The public is unlikely to move much, if this survey is any indication. Support for internationalist policies has not decreased, but rather increased since last year in a number of measures. So, the question now is whether President Trump — also like his predecessors — ends up being more of a champion of the international order than when he began.    

There is much more worth exploring in the survey, and I encourage all of you to download and read it. This Week’s Reads includes a bit more on the survey as covered in the press this week, as well as a few other articles worth your time. As always, I welcome your comments and reflections.

Trump Foreign Policy Pronouncements Split the Republican Party

Dan Balz and Emily Guskin/The Washington Post

Washington Post reporters Dan Balz and Emily Guskin review the latest Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey and conclude that the Republican Party is divided. While a core contingent of supporters back the president’s policies, Republicans less favorable of Trump fall nearer to the majority of Independents and Democrats on the value of alliances, trade, and international agreements. “The survey also underscores the degree to which Trump, despite the bully pulpit of the White House, has been unable to shift public opinion in his direction on foreign policy issues,” they write. “In fact, the opposite has occurred.”

No Laughing Matter: Why Trump's Words on North Korea Matter

Evan Osnos/The New Yorker

The New Yorker’s former China correspondent, current Washington correspondent, and occasional North Korea visitor is well positioned to give us a full and fair picture of the current nuclear standoff with Pyongyang. In this smart essay, Evan Osnos argues that “Trump‘s personalization of the conflict has introduced a new playbook that seems almost perfectly engineered to trigger Kim’s paranoia and animosity.” Osnos provides an excellent review of the last few months, revealing just how unwieldy and dangerous the tensions among Washington, Pyongyang, and Beijing have become.

Three Myths About Catalonia’s Independence Movement

Francisco de Borja Lasheras/European Council on Foreign Relations

Yes, this piece by Francisco de Borja Lasheras for the European Council on Foreign Relations is true to its title. Three widely held but dubious beliefs about Catalonia’s independence movement are presented and refuted. Comparing Spain today to Yugoslavia’s break up in the 1990s, for example, does not really pan out, Borja writes. But that is just the start. The article goes on to explain in detail some of the likely paths ahead for both Catalonia and for all of Spain. As Borja wisely notes, the outcome has ramifications well beyond Spain. Separatist and independence movements across Europe are eagerly watching to see what happens.

How to Break Free of Washington’s Conventional Wisdom

Gerald F. Seib/Wall Street Journal

Rahm Emanuel saw it coming, Gerald Seib writes in the Wall Street Journal. The Chicago mayor had confided to Seib in 2016 that Hillary Clinton might indeed lose the 2016 election to Donald Trump. Seib did not believe him. After all, the consensus said it simply could not happen. “My resistance to Mr. Emanuel’s views,” Seib writes “was a perfect example of the perils of being trapped in conventional wisdom, which has, in the past few years, driven so many to get so much so wrong.” And with that wonderful anecdote and mea culpa, Seib begins a smart look at how we can extricate ourselves from the bubble of the dreaded “CW.”

Yuriko Koike, a Political Outsider Taking on Japan’s Grey Elite

Robin Harding and Leo Lewis/Financial Times

Japan has gone through six prime ministers in the last decade. That thought must have crossed the mind of Shinzo Abe, the current office holder, when he called for a snap election for October 22. Yet just days ago, the person who looked poised to challenge and possibly replace Abe, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, said she would not run. This article in the Financial Times, written before her announcement, is nonetheless an important look at the rising politician who may yet run in the future and may yet become the country’s first female prime minister.

How Trump Can Improve the Iran Deal

Mark Dubowitz and David Albright/Wall Street Journal

“Decertify, waive, slap, and fix” is the proposed path forward for the Trump administration on the Iran deal, as explained in this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. As the next deadline for the Trump administration to certify the deal looms, Mark Dubowitz and David Albright describe how Trump can refuse to certify without actually scrapping the deal altogether. Yet the success of the plan rests on clear communication between the White House and Congress. The former must decertify the deal, they argue, but the latter must not reinstate the specific sanctions that were lifted as part of the agreement. Achieving this would open up the opportunity for Trump to impose other, different sanctions and to work to fix the shortcomings of the existing deal.

How Macron and Merkel Will Shape the European Union

The Economist

Consider this: Angela Merkel had been chancellor of Germany for over a decade when Emmanuel Macron’s political party, En Marche, was founded. Yet now, Merkel and Macron are the unlikely twin forces working together to reshape the European Union — that is, if they can manage it. In this leader for the Economist, an agenda to reform and revive the European project is outlined, as are a few of the major roadblocks ahead. It’s an ambitious call to action, and perhaps the Economist should have appended its title with “—we hope.”

Islamic State's Deadly Drone Operation Is Faltering, but U.S. Commanders See Broader Danger Ahead

W.J. Hennigan/The Los Angeles Times

Proliferation isn’t just about nuclear weapons. Low-cost drones are suddenly everywhere, and groups like the Islamic State are weaponizing them. During the recent battle for Mosul, for example, ISIS drones swarmed overhead to such an extent that a US military officer said they sounded like bees. W.J. Hennigan’s important piece in the Los Angeles Times examines how this new technology has become a battlefield concern for the US military, with consequences well beyond Iraq and Syria. "This is a threat that will only increase in the coming years," one technology expert interviewed by Hennigan says. "The genie is out of the bottle."

Should Rex Tillerson Resign?

Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky/POLITICO Magazine

It has been a difficult week for the secretary of state. But the decision to stay or go should be based on more than any alleged disagreements or name-calling. After all, the success of US diplomacy is at stake. In this well-argued and detailed piece for POLITICO Magazine, Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky review some of the obstacles and preoccupations that have featured prominently in the secretary of state’s tenure so far. It is a smart and nuanced assessment of his apparent strengths and weaknesses. As for the final verdict by Miller and Sokolsky of whether Tillerson should quit, you’ll have to read the essay.

The Wrong Time to Cut Back on Refugees

Michael G. Mullen/The New York Times

The number of refugees in the world is the highest it has been since World War II. It is exactly the wrong time to be reducing the annual cap on refugees admitted to the United States, writes former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen in the New York Times. Yet the Trump administration has proposed to do exactly this, reducing the number admitted to 50,000, and perhaps even fewer. For comparison, Mullen reminds us, President Reagan let in some 200,000 a year in the early 1980s. “Refugees are victims of extremist groups and brutal governments,” Mullen writes. “They become patriotic, hard-working Americans. Refugees are us.”


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.


| By Ian Klaus

Did the UNSG Say “Revolution”?

While there is nothing convenient about 2020, the upcoming Pritzker Forum on Global Cities has been helpfully anticipated by a series of publications that speak to the high stakes currently in play in cities around the world and the urgent need - from the perspective of both efficacy and equity - to adapt governance practices.

| By Laurence Ralph, Thomas Abt, Brian Hanson

Deep Dish: Police Reform Lessons from Around the World

Princeton University’s Laurence Ralph and the Council on Criminal Justice’s Thomas Abt join Deep Dish to explain why police brutality is not a uniquely American phenomenon and argue the strongest examples of successful police reform come from outside the United States.

| By Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Brian Hanson

Deep Dish: Thailand’s Youth Demand Democratic Reforms

Political scientist Pavin Chachavalpongpun joins Deep Dish to explain how social media makes these Thailand's pro-democracy protests different than past movements and why the United States should see Thailand as a foreign policy priority when negotiating a rising China.

| By Maha Yahya, Emile Hokayem, Brian Hanson

Deep Dish: Can Lebanon Overcome Corruption and Crisis?

Carnegie Middle East Center Director Maha Yahya and the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Emile Hokayem join Deep Dish to examine the ongoing protest movement in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s role in the crisis, and how a system built on sectarian politics could be rebuilt.