Today's edition of This Week's Reads features a guest introduction from Jim Lindsay, my coauthor for The Empty Throne: America’s Abdication of Global Leadership. This was originally published in The Water's Edge from the Council on Foreign Relations.
On his last day in office President Barack Obama left a note on the Resolute desk in the Oval Office for his successor. The note offered congratulations and extolled democratic institutions and values. The note also highlighted the importance and indispensability of American global leadership. “It’s up to us, through action and example,” Obama wrote, “to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend.”
It was heartfelt advice from the outgoing president. But twenty-one months later, it’s clearly not advice Donald Trump has followed. That should not be a surprise. Trump campaigned on the argument that U.S. global leadership wasn’t the solution to what ailed America but the cause. Since taking office, he has been good to his word. He has focused on beating and not leading friends and allies, believing that they free ride on America’s security guarantees and pick its pockets on trade deals. As Ivo Daalder and I argue in our forthcoming book, The Empty Throne: America’s Abdication of Global Leadership, Trump’s America First foreign policy represents a tectonic shift in America’s relations with the world, and one likely to leave the United States confronting a more dangerous and less prosperous future.
The question is, how should America’s friends and allies respond to a president motivated by the logic of competition and domination rather than the logic of cooperation and coordination? After all, they have as much to lose, if not more, if the world order the United States created more than seventy years ends up on history’s ash heap. Ivo and I tackle that question in “The Committee to Save the World Order: America’s Allies Must Step Up as America Steps Down,” an article that will appear in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs. You don’t have to wait for that issue to hit the newsstand, though. Foreign Affairs posted the article online today. Here’s our argument in nutshell:
“Trump’s hostility toward the United States’ own geopolitical invention has shocked many of Washington’s friends and allies. Their early hopes that he might abandon his campaign rhetoric once in office and embrace a more traditional foreign policy have been dashed. As Trump has jettisoned old ways of doing business, allies have worked their way through the initial stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. In the typical progression, acceptance should come next.
But the story does not have to end that way. The major allies of the United States can leverage their collective economic and military might to save the liberal world order. France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the EU in Europe; Australia, Japan, and South Korea in Asia; and Canada in North America are the obvious candidates to supply the leadership that the Trump administration will not. Together, they represent the largest economic power in the world, and their collective military capabilities are surpassed only by those of the United States. This “G-9” should have two imperatives: maintain the rules-based order in the hope that Trump’s successor will reclaim Washington’s global leadership role and lay the groundwork to make it politically possible for that to happen. This holding action will require every member of the G-9 to take on greater global responsibilities. They all are capable of doing so; they need only summon the will.”
I encourage you to read the entire piece. As always, I welcome your feedback.
Martin Wolf / Financial Times
What worked for Mexico and Canada will not work for China, writes Martin Wolf in the Financial Times. The dodgy arithmetic of “wins” and “loses” that informed President Trump’s most recent trade deals are unlikely to work on a major economy like China’s that is far less dependent on the United States than either Mexico or Canada. Worse, pursing a “win” defined only in terms of trade surpluses and deficits could scuttle a readily achievable and beneficial deal between Beijing and Washington. “The United States could get a deal on intellectual property and market liberalization with China,” Wolf concludes. “But it cannot get a deal on balancing bilateral trade or stopping China’s economic development.”
Neil Irwin / The New York Times
The Trump administration’s trade deals with South Korea and with Mexico and Canada are just the beginning, or at least that is the plan, explains Neil Irwin in the New York Times. The White House is also seeking deals with Europe, with Japan, and most of all with China. “A crucial question is whether the administration’s strategy of pummeling allies with attacks, threats and tariffs can yield not just revised trade agreements, but also the trust needed to undertake a concerted campaign against China,” writes Irwin.
Andrew J. Bacevich / The New York Times
Twenty-five years ago, a US military operation in Somalia ended in fiasco. Eighteen Americans died, and the graphic images of failure galvanized the American public against such interventions, if only for a moment. In the years since, however, as Andrew Bacevich details in the New York Times, the United States has embarked on any number of campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. The original lesson of Somalia was short lived, both for the American public and for its leaders. “Rarely does an American leader, political or military, explain what larger purpose these wars are serving,” Bacevich writes. “Never do they venture to speculate on when they might end.”
Robert Kagan / The Washington Post
As much as Americans might want to draw a clear and distinct line between geopolitics and geoeconomics, the reality is they’re inseparable, writes Robert Kagan in the Washington Post. As such, President Trump’s fight with China could escalate beyond economic issues. “Trade wars and economic competition were often precursors to real wars — Germany and Britain before World War I, for example, or the mercantilist competition among England, Spain and France in the 17th and 18th centuries,” Kagan explains. (For more, watch Kagan’s recent talk at the Council here.)
Richard Florida and Ian Hathaway / Wall Street Journal
Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google—the names of the large US-based tech companies are well known. But the next generation of tech companies in the United States could be in danger as venture capital investment grows in other nations. As recently as the mid-1990s, the United States was home to 95 percent of all venture capital investment in the world, as Richard Florida and Ian Hathaway explain in the Wall Street Journal. Today, that number has fallen to near 50 percent, with China making up the lion’s share of the difference.
Josh Rogin / The Washington Post
Vice President Mike Pence’s recent speech at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, was a “landmark” in US-China relations, writes Josh Rogin in the Washington Post. “First, it called out the Chinese government for perpetrating a multi-faceted, well-resourced, and shady campaign of foreign influence operations on US soil,” he explains. “Second, it placed that campaign in the context of a global competition between the United States and China that is being waged on every continent and in every realm.” Gone are any notions that further economic liberalization in China will lead to political liberalization.
David Nakamura and Anne Gearan / The Washington Post
Vice President Pence’s recent speech at the Hudson Institute, as David Nakamura and Anne Gearan explain in the Washington Post, “offered the clearest declaration that the White House is moving forward with a harder-edge strategy, which analysts in Beijing view as aimed at containing China’s rise.” In his full-throated attack on China, Pence made a number of accusations both well supported, such as intellectual property theft by Chinese companies, and less well documented, such as the claim that Beijing is a greater threat to election security in the United States than Russia.
Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay / China-US Focus
Many are expecting a sea change after the November midterm election. Democrats are likely to see substantial gains; they may even gain control of Congress. Yet as James Lindsay and I write in China-Us Focus, one issue likely to see more continuity than change after November is US policy toward China. The fact is that Trump is unlikely to abandon his get-tough policy with Beijing in the face of a Republican defeat. Nor will Democrats be able or inclined to force him. It is not a matter of what will happen after November. What is important is what has already happened on Capitol Hill. Both parties have shed the rosy optimism of the Clinton-Bush years that economic liberalization would eventually lead to political liberalization in China.
Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin / The Times (UK)
The notion that populist nationalism is driven solely by the poor, by the elderly, or by men is, as Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin explain in the Times, more or less bunk. “During the US primaries, the median household income of a Trump voter was $72,000, compared with a national median of $56,000,” they write. Similar findings upend stereotypes about which voters supported Brexit. The referendum on whether the United Kingdom should exit the European Union, they write, “was endorsed by one in four British graduates, one in two women, one in two people from urban areas, around two-fifths of those aged between 18 and 34 and half of those aged between 35 and 44.”
Anne Applebaum / The Washington Post
They were caught red-handed, writes Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post. Four Russian military intelligence (GRU) operatives were recently observed by Dutch authorities spying on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. Phones and laptops confiscated from the Russians are now giving authorities a much more detailed view into the GRU’s extensive operations around the world. In fact, some of the very operatives spotted at The Hague have been implicated in spying on the team investigating the MH17 crash in Malaysia, on the World Anti-Doping Agency, and on a laboratory in Switzerland tasked with identifying the chemical nerve agent Novichok