June 14, 2018 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week's Reads – The Crises of the West

US President Donald Trump, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attend the G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

The West is in crisis. That’s not a new statement; it’s happened before—after the Suez War, when the United States sided against France and Britain; during the Vietnam War, when the United States fought to strengthen its global credibility despite the opposition of most allies; or in the run-up to the Iraq War, which split the alliance, with the United Kingdom and the United States on one side and France and Germany on the other. The West has faced many crises, but this time feels different, and its consequences longer lasting.

The ostensible reason for today’s crisis is a dispute over trade—specifically, President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from allied countries. This, too, has happened before—trade disputes are nothing new among Western countries. But the context is significantly different.

First, Trump justified his tariffs by claiming that steel and aluminum imports pose a national security threat. This is unprecedented. George W. Bush imposed steel tariffs on allies, but the justification was based on unfair economic practices—steel dumping—not a perceived security threat.

Let's be clear: Allies are not threats. To argue that steel imports from Canada pose a national security threat is, as Trudeau said, “insulting and unacceptable.” It’s also not credible. Defense Secretary James Mattis argued that “US military requirements for steel and aluminum each only represent about three percent of US production.” In other words, American manufacturing could easily supply 100 percent of the military's needs for these metals; foreign imports do not “impact the ability of DoD programs to acquire the steel or aluminum necessary to meet national defense requirements,” per Mattis.

Second, today's crisis over trade stands out because it is part of a pattern of disruption, not an isolated incident. The blow up at the G-7 is just the White House’s latest clash with its Western allies: In addition to imposing tariffs, Trump has withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement, moved the United States embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal—all against our allies' wishes and warnings, in each case doing more damage to the Western-led consensus.

The biggest problem, however, is that these disputes reflect President Trump’s rejection of the rules-based international order that the United States has not only championed for 70 years, but has benefitted from and was responsible for creating in the first place. “The rules-based international order is being challenged, quite surprisingly, not by the usual suspects, but by its main architect and guarantor, the United States,” Donald Tusk observed in Canada last week.

This is the point of a new book James Lindsay and I are publishing in October – The Empty Throne: America's Abdication of Global Leadership. American policy is adrift, and while the global order has been slowly fraying, President Trump is accelerating its deterioration.

Yes, the West has faced crises in the past. But this beating drum of disruption and distrust may give way to more permanent and lasting damage than we've ever seen before.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments. Click here to subscribe to This Week's Reads.

The Trade Wars of 2018: An Alternate History

Greg Ip / The Wall Street Journal

Ip presents an alternate approach to trade that relies on alliance-building—as opposed to the adversarial measures the Trump administration has taken thus far—to confront China and fix the global trading system. In this parallel universe, President Trump’s aides have persuaded him the real problem with China isn’t the trade deficit, but how the Chinese discriminate against foreign products and steal intellectual property. US trade demands, in Ip’s fiction, reflect the same restrictions on Beijing that US companies face in China. At a G-7 meeting and in a World Trade Organization case, Canada, the EU, and Japan join the US in a united front. The article plays out what happens next, resulting in China still becoming an advanced industrial nation, but having to share more of the benefits with its foreign partners.

Donald Trump is Undermining the Rules-Based International Order

The Economist

There are three perspectives from which to look at President Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, according to The Economist. The first, and most prevalent among allies and those in the foreign-policy establishment, is despair, because of what the rules-based order has provided for them since the end of World War II. The second perspective is “Yes, but,” meaning Trump’s effect on the rules-based order may not be as profound, unprecedented, or permanent as they seem. The third perspective involves an openness to the possibility of Trump’s style leading to the achievement of things that “people working in old ways within the old system simply could not.” Still, to the extent that Trump succeeds, “he, his followers, and those of like mind elsewhere will feel that their scorn of the rules-based international order is vindicated, while continuing to do nothing to find a durable replacement.”

1 Big Thing: The New World Order

Mike Allen / Axios

In response to the “chaos” at last week’s G7 summit in Canada, Allen hits pause and walks through the new era of global trade wars. “Trump is challenging the global order, and well-established alliances, more than any US president in living memory.” Allen goes over the reasons why one should care about this, why (perhaps) Trump is doing this, and how those who tried to stop him failed. The newsletter concludes with background on what country stands to gain the most from US political turmoil: China.

Under Trump, “America First” Really Is Turning out to Be America Alone

Susan B. Glasser / The New Yorker

From trade to the Iran deal to NAFTA, President Trump has created the highest tension between the US and its allies in decades, Glasser writes. As Trump’s dramatic trade moves played out last spring and escalated during the G7 summit, Glasser writes that senior officials in London, Berlin, and other European capitals are beginning to consider Trump a greater threat to their alliances than authoritarian great-power rivals, such as Russia and China. Last year at Davos, Trump assured the global elites in attendance that, “America First is not America alone.” Now, increasingly, it is, Glasser concludes.

Why Trump Clashes with Europe

Walter Russell Mead / The Wall Street Journal

The most damaging effects of President Trump’s “America First” diplomacy have been on the Transatlantic relationship, argues Mead. Trump’s demeanor and impulsive tendencies puts him at odds with Europe’s “low-key norms of statesmanship.” The US president also doesn’t believe the future will be one of “interdependent, postnationalist states engaged in win-win trade” or that “military power will become less relevant as progress marches on.” Perhaps the thesis of Mead’s article can best be summed up by this line: “Trump thinks the EU’s political establishment is just as blind and misguided as they believe he is.”

The Art of the Foreign-Policy Deal: An Insider’s Guide to Trump’s Tactics

Michael C. Bender, Dion Nissenbaum, and Michael R. Gordon / The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal examines key foreign policy moments from President Trump’s 16 months in office to analyze his style of statecraft. One of Trump’s methods centers around the mantra of “I alone can fix it,” as evidenced by his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal against the wishes of US allies. His second method, seen in his stance on North Korea, is to “soften up the opposition and keep it off balance.” Other Trump tactics include setting deadlines to create pressure, roiling the waters, making it personal, and applying “maximum pressure” while being prepared to walk away.

Reclaiming Global Leadership

John Kasich / Foreign Affairs

John Kasich, governor of Ohio and 2016 republican presidential hopeful, presses for US global engagement and cooperation in lieu of isolationism. “The way forward is not to retreat but to renew our commitment to supporting those who share our values, to reboot our capacity to collaborate, and to forge a new consensus on how to adapt our policies and institutions to the new era,” he writes. Kasich outlines the ways America can continue to engage in the world, from preparing the US workforce for emerging industries to forging leaner, more agile coalitions with allies to solves problems swiftly. At the end, he emphasizes the importance of bipartisan consensus to get any of these goals accomplished. “I have faith that our deeply held values will guide us down the right path,” Kasich writes. “As we look back at history, Americans can take pride in the fact that we have made the world a better place time and time again.”

Witnessing the Obama Presidency, from Start to Finish

George Packer / The New Yorker

Packer unpacks Ben Rhodes’ new memoir of his time as Barack Obama’s speechwriter, foreign-policy adviser, and confidant. The MFA-grad-turned-presidential-aide became so adept at anticipating Obama’s thoughts and putting them into the appropriate language that his boss gave him a say on major policy issues ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. In fact, Packer calls Rhodes’ book, “…the closest view of Obama we’re likely to get until he publishes his own memoir.” Watch Rhodes speaking on the Council’s stage last year.

Meeting with Kim Tests Trump’s Dealmaking Swagger

Mark Landler / The New York Times

In his own unorthodox way, Landler argues, President Trump has been preparing for his encounter with Kim Jong-un his entire adult life. Trump attended the New York Military Academy in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis and became steeped in the heroics of General Douglas MacArthur, a Korean War commander. Landler writes that the US-North Korea summit could make Trump part of a chapter of history that has always resonated with him and offer, “…a historic chance to rid the world, and his own presidency, of the greatest threat from atomic weapons.”

From ‘Punk Kid’ to 21st Century Tyrant: Kim Jong Un Seizes His Moment

John Lyons / The Wall Street Journal

“Mr. Kim has a way of overturning expectations,” Lyons writes. When he inherited power in 2011, expert opinion was he’d be toppled or killed within a year. “Six years on, he is a bona fide 21st century tyrant prepping for a planned June 12 meeting with US President Donald Trump,” Lyons writes, asserting that, “…the man Trump is gearing up to meet has turned out to be a far-more-calculating, brutal, and ambitious operator than was once believed, raising challenges for Washington in the years ahead.”


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 Catherine Belton, Brian Hanson

Deep Dish: How Putin Holds Power Over Russia

Investigative reporter Catherine Belton joins Deep Dish to examine the people that surround Russia’s enigmatic leader – and the financial ties to the West that makes the Kremlin’s dominance possible. 

Listen: Inside the Global Response to COVID-19

Over the last month, we talked to journalists around the world in a series of special edition Deep Dish episodes focused on how countries around the world are responding to COVID-19.