In the end, presidents are judged by whether their choices make Americans safer and more prosperous. President Trump’s big choice, as he demonstrated in no uncertain terms during his remarks on Tuesday at the United Nations, has been to declare war on multilateralism.
The president has identified the enemy—it is any three or more nations assembled together to work peacefully toward a common goal. Not just the United Nations, but also the World Trade Organization, the International Criminal Court, the Human Rights Council, the Global Compact on Migration, and an array of other international organizations and agreements took the brunt of the president’s ire on Tuesday. Each are, in Trump’s telling, agents of “global governance, control, and domination.”
“We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable body,” the president declared.
The world Trump spoke of at the United Nations is also a remarkably isolated and lonely place. Each nation is an island unto itself, with, as he said, its own visions, its own customs, its own hopes, its own dreams, each owned solely by the nation. That important issues such as disease, pollution, climate change, war, famine, peace, and prosperity affect many nations all at once, and thus require their cooperation to be effectively addressed, is all together missing from the worldview Trump presented on Tuesday.
As James Lindsay and I detail in our new book, The Empty Throne: America's Abdication of Global Leadership, it is already clear that the Trump administration’s antagonism toward multilateralism will leave the United States less prosperous and in greater danger. To understand why, it is necessary to understand the critical role America has in the world today.
While the president spoke of his nation as “victimized,” “cheated,” “abused,” “taken advantage of,” and “plundered,” the United States in fact has long been the single most powerful nation in the world. And as a result, Washington has long had unparalleled influence in shaping multilateral institutions around US preferences, not the other way around. It is not an abuse, but rather a recognition of America’s consistent strength that other nations have come to expect, trust, and more often than not, defer to US-led multilateralism.
And multilateralism has benefited the United States immensely, not least through the prosperity generated by trade. It takes a component from Germany, another from Japan, others yet from China, the United States, the Netherlands, South Korea, and Italy — raw materials and manufacturing from every corner of the globe — to make the iPhone in your pocket.
But President Trump doesn’t see trade this way. He sees trade as a tactical weapon deployed by other nations, in cahoots with the WTO, to damage the United States. And, yet, as new data from the 2018 Chicago Council Survey shows, a strong and growing majority of Americans believe trade is good for the US economy, consumers, and for creating jobs.
Finally, the issue of safety. There is a dark and unsettling irony to declaring war on multilateralism, as it has been a critical factor in keeping major wars at bay for the last many decades. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres explained in his address on Tuesday, the wars in Europe a century ago were a direct result of the lack of multilateral frameworks for cooperation—and, I would add, strong American engagement and leadership. Absent such a framework, and absent strong American global leadership, the threat of the world returning to the historical norm of great power competition and war inexorably increases.
In all, Trump’s zero-sum, us-versus-them worldview poses a growing challenge to the future prosperity and security, not only of the world, but of Americans who have long enjoyed both.
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Philip Stephens / The Financial Times
Contrary to popular western belief that China is always three moves ahead of the US, Stephens posits that Beijing has been badly caught off guard by President Trump’s punitive tariffs. In addition, from a European lens, China suddenly looks like a strategic threat as much as a market opportunity. Thus, Stephens argues, an intelligent Chinese response would, “…start by recognizing the risk of a broader clash.” The harder task for Beijing, according to Stephens, will be recognizing that if China wants to win arguments in Washington, it needs friends in the American business community, which it has alienated for years.
Michael Beckley / Foreign Affairs
The emerging consensus among both Democrats and Republicans that the US needs to aggressively counter China or risk losing its status as the world’s leading power is wrong, Beckley argues. “By the most important measures of national wealth and power, China is struggling to keep up and will probably fall further behind in the coming decades,” Beckley writes. The greatest risk in US strategy, therefore, lies not in doing too little, but in doing too much–essentially overreacting to fears of Chinese ascent and American decline. “To keep the peace, US leaders should seek to engage rather than alienate Beijing, safe in the knowledge that long-term geopolitical trends will favor the United States,” Beckley writes.
Tom Hancock / The Financial Times
Despite the US-China trade war, China’s export sector has continued to thrive. While officials in the Trump administration have focused on Chinese advances in high-tech areas, the bigger threat to US industry, Hancock argues, is the rapid increase in Chinese exports of medium-level technology, such as vehicles and their parts, as well as electrical and construction machinery. “Much of China’s move up the value chain has been in capital goods–goods used to make other goods–and components, rather than consumer products,” Hancock writes. “Rather than groundbreaking innovations, Chinese companies have become adept at incremental improvements.”
Ilya Arkhipov and Arne Delfs / Bloomberg Businessweek
“With Donald Trump upending diplomatic ties around the world, Putin is finding a warmer reception from European leaders who’ve long shunned him,” Arkhipov and Delfs write. Last month, the Russian leader met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin for the first time since 2014, signaling a potential thaw between the two countries. President Trump’s stance on the Iran nuclear deal, in conjunction with US tariffs imposed on the EU and Russia, have, “…suddenly given Putin and European leaders a set of common grievances.” Trump’s threat to impose sanctions on the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline connecting Russian gas to German markets also strikes a nerve, the authors write, adding that Merkel’s commitment to the project has impressed the Kremlin.
Reihan Salam / The Wall Street Journal
When trying to tackle the immigration issue, we find ourselves confronted by a paradox, Salam argues: Liberal scholars and journalists recognize that immigration-driven cultural change has contributed to right-wing populism, but the notion of slowing the pace of immigration is a non-starter. The key to unlocking this paradox, Salam believes, is to, “…recognize that the immigration debate isn’t really about immigrants…it’s about the children of immigrants.” What Salam means by this is the US should do everything in its power to make sure that the children of natives and the children of immigrants alike are incorporated into common national identity and revive the middle-class melting pot ideal that fell from favor decades ago. “By emphasizing all that Americans have in common, and the fact that integration and assimilation can, over time, deepen our shared cultural bonds, the melting pot ideal can pull us back from the brink of ethnic and class conflict,” Salam concludes.
‘The Apprentice’ Book Excerpt: At CIA’s ‘Russia House,’ Growing Alarm About 2016 Election Interference
Greg Miller / The Washington Post
An excerpt from Miller’s upcoming book, “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy,” details a narrative history of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and its fallout. Pulling from hundreds of interviews with government officials, Trump associates, and members of law enforcement and intelligence communities, Miller describes how the CIA’s Russia House, awoken from its post-Cold War slumber by Moscow’s maneuverings, delivered an assessment in late July that Putin was himself directing an “active measures” operation aimed not only at disrupting the US presidential race but at electing Trump. Miller goes on to examine the speech President Trump gave at Langley, just two days after his inauguration, against the figurative backdrop of an FBI investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and the literal backdrop of a marble wall carved with 117 stars representing those at the agency who made the ultimate sacrifice for American democracy.
Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti / The New York Times
“The Russian intervention was essentially a hijacking–of American companies like Facebook and Twitter; of American citizens’ feelings about immigration and race; of American journalists eager for scoops, however modest; of the naïve, or perhaps not so naïve, ambitions of Mr. Trump’s advisers,” Shane and Mazzetti write. This Times interactive shows a timeline of parallel threads woven together to form the “Russia Story” so far.