Republican foreign policy was once defined by clashing world views. Now it’s defined only by loyalty to the president.
At first glance, the recent drone strike ordered by President Trump against an Iranian general would seem to return Republican foreign policy to the George W. Bush era. Several elements of the attack reflected the approach to the world defined by Mr. Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney: a belief in the efficacy of military force, the validity of pre-emptive attack and the determination to avoid seeking approval from congressional leaders. But on closer examination, such comparisons fail. In his foreign policy, Mr. Trump represents something wholly new.
The president’s recent actions underscore the fact that the Republican Party has no guiding principles; it has only Mr. Trump, who demands loyalty to himself as its leader. Nor does the party leadership have senior figures with long experience in foreign policy who might challenge Mr. Trump’s thinking. The Republican Party, which once served as home for a variety of clashing philosophies about foreign policy, has lost its moorings.
Consider the party’s history in recent decades and the contrast with where the party stands today. Over the past half-century, the Republicans had been loosely split between two approaches for dealing with the world. One was the traditional, alliance-centered internationalism that had held sway, for example, under President George H.W. Bush. The other was the hawkish unilateralism of the party’s neoconservatives, who had gathered strength during the Reagan administration.
During the George W. Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell carried forward, if imperfectly, the ideas of internationalism; Vice President Cheney embraced many of the views of the neoconservatives. These two schools of thought came into acrimonious conflict over Iraq, Israel, North Korea and other issues.
Now, under Mr. Trump, the Republican Party has been transformed in such a way that neither internationalists nor neoconservatives hold influence in the White House. Mr. Trump has weaved, wavered and reversed course on foreign policy based on his views of the moment, and as he has, the Republicans have followed. The factional disputes that characterized the Bush years have been replaced by a single question: Are you loyal to President Trump or not?
There is no one to challenge Mr. Trump now. In contrast, consider the era of Mr. Cheney and Mr. Powell. Those two men were the most durable figures at the top of America’s foreign policy apparatus from 1988 to 2008, encompassing the end of the Cold War and its aftermath.
During those 20 years, Mr. Powell served for nine years under four American presidents as national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs and secretary of state. Mr. Cheney served for a total of 12 years as secretary of defense and vice president. The Trump administration has nothing comparable; indeed, not one of the senior leaders in the current administration, including the vice president, secretary of state and defense or national security adviser, has been involved at the top ranks in any previous administration.
Even the more experienced officials Mr. Trump initially appointed to senior foreign-policy jobs, like former Defense Secretary James Mattis and the former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, had spent less previous time in senior Washington positions than veterans of previous Republican administrations (who also included figures such as Brent Scowcroft and Robert Gates). And even these older hands — the “adults in the room,” as they were often called — left the Trump administration within two years.
Determined, experienced advisers can sometimes deflect a president’s worst instincts and ideas. While doing book research in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, I ran across the astonishing fact that in the fall of 1988, well after the Iran-contra scandal was behind him, President Reagan secretly tried to revive efforts to pay Iran for the release of American hostages in Lebanon, and to forge a new relationship with Iran.
“We have billions,” Mr. Reagan told Mr. Powell, his national security adviser. But Mr. Powell was adamantly opposed to the idea and made sure it didn’t happen. (In the early 2000s, he was less strongly opposed to the idea of going to war in Iraq, the venture strongly supported by Mr. Cheney.)
It is tempting for liberals to assume that all their opponents on the political right are alike, or stem from the same source — and that therefore, Dick Cheney somehow led to Donald Trump. But that’s not correct; Mr. Trump’s origins, outlook and style are quite different from those of Mr. Cheney.
Mr. Cheney’s rise to power — indeed, his very persona — was based on a preoccupation with government processes and a familiarity with the national-security bureaucracies (call them the “deep state”) that Mr. Trump so often disdains. Mr. Cheney has at times voiced disapproval of some of the linchpins of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy, such as his dealings with Russia and North Korea. John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, represented the last link in the top ranks of the Trump administration to the determinedly hawkish policies advocated by Mr. Cheney.
As for Mr. Powell, it is at this point hard even to recall how or why he identified himself as a Republican. Yet at the time the Cold War was ending, the Democrats were calling for a “peace dividend” that included substantial cuts in the defense budget, and Mr. Powell, working closely with Mr. Cheney, labored hard, and for the most part successfully, to resist those efforts.
Mr. Powell’s eventual alienation from the Republican Party was a result of the same forces and dynamics that would eventually propel the rise of Mr. Trump: nativism and hostility toward immigrants and racial minorities. When Mr. Powell appeared before the Republican National Convention in 1996, he made a plea for diversity and tolerance.
“The Hispanic immigrant who became a citizen yesterday must be as precious as a Mayflower descendant,” he told the delegates then. That speech was greeted by a smattering of boos. In 2008, when Mr. Powell announced he could not support the Republican presidential nominee (even though it was his old friend John McCain), Mr. Powell specifically cited the mood of Republicans who had claimed that Senator McCain’s opponent, Barack Obama, was a Muslim.
The Trump Republicans long ago abandoned Mr. Powell and virtually everything he stood for — and while it may seem less obvious right now, they have cut loose from Cheneyism, too. We can see the party’s absence of ideas or strategy in the current policies on the Middle East and North Korea.
The drone strike came alongside Mr. Trump’s purported effort to lessen America’s involvement in the Middle East. His personal diplomacy with Kim Jong-un of North Korea and President Vladimir Putin of Russia might appear to be in line with Mr. Powell’s emphasis on diplomacy — but under Mr. Trump, what has counted so far is only the word “personal,” not the diplomacy. As a result, the Republicans are left with no past and no ideas, merely a single man and his vagaries.
Rogue nations thrive when the good lose all conviction.
Most of human history has been marked by war. Between 1500 and 1945, scarcely a year went by without some great power fighting another great power. Then, in 1945 that stopped. The number of battlefield deaths has plummeted to the lowest levels in history. The world has experienced the greatest reduction in poverty in history, as well as the greatest spread of democracy and freedom.
Why did this happen? Mostly it was because the United States decided to lead a community of nations to create a democratic world order. That order consisted of institutions like NATO, the U.N. and the World Bank. But it was also enforced by the pervasive presence of American power — military, economic and cultural power as well as the magnetic power of the democratic idea, which inspired dissidents worldwide.
Building any community requires exercising power. America’s leaders made some terrible mistakes (Vietnam, Iraq). The nation never got to enjoy the self-righteous sense of innocence that the powerless and reclusive enjoy.
But the U.S. having been dragged into two world wars, leaders from Truman to Obama felt they had no choice but to widen America’s circle of concern across the whole world. This was abnormal. As Robert Kagan writes in “The Jungle Grows Back,”“Very few nations in history have ever felt any responsibility for anything but themselves.”
The American leader is deliberately presiding over a retreat from global leadership by the United States. Mr. Macron wants to be a global leader but is painfully aware that France, despite its status as a nuclear power with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, cannot compete. So he is enlisting Europe in his ambition. In President Trump’s view, America will become great again by withdrawing from the world. In President Macron’s view, France can be great again only by making Europe a global actor.
Compare the two leaders’ visits to China: In November, Mr. Trump, flattered and treated to a lavish banquet in the Great Hall of the People by a very determined Chinese president, forgot to talk about trade — supposedly his biggest issue with China. In January, Mr. Macron proclaimed in Beijing that “France is back, Europe is back” and proceeded to demand from the same leader, Xi Jinping, reciprocity in access to Chinese and European markets — a constant theme of his three-day visit. Whether the Chinese will give in is another story, but presumably they spotted the difference.
.. Now, they represent two camps within the Western world:
- a camp of nationalist leaders, which include a handful of Trump followers inside the European Union, and
- a camp of internationalists, gathering most of Europe’s heavyweights around President Macron and Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel. Thanks to Donald Trump’s clumsiness, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain has joined the latter camp, even while negotiating Brexit.
.. Why similar domestic political dynamics produced such different effects is very much a question of electoral mechanics. Under America’s Electoral College system, Donald Trump could beat a candidate who won the popular vote by a majority of three million, while France’s two-round system never gave Ms. Le Pen a chance.
.. Mr. Trump’s erratic debut at the White House, coupled with the shock of the Brexit referendum, also made French voters think twice before taking the nationalist direction.
.. The two men may pretend to enjoy a warm relationship. They may even think they do, based on their common imperative of fighting terrorism. Yet the way they exercise power and the policies they promote keeps them apart.
.. Mr. Trump, who campaigned as a populist and rules as one, is accused of diminishing the American presidency. His compulsive tweeting habits, betraying a limited vocabulary, aim to bypass the mainstream media that he loathes; he watches TV, doesn’t read books, takes a lot of time off.
Mr. Macron, as soon as he was elected, reverted to a quasi-monarchical presidential role. His goal, he explained, was to restore authority and dignity to an office that had been weakened by his predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Mr. Hollande. His Twitter line is kept strictly to official announcements. He communicates through 90-minute speeches and lengthy interviews studded with references to philosophers, archaic words and refined grammar.
.. He is a true workaholic and makes it known that his nights are short.
The two leaders do have a few things in common. They are both lucky — and in politics, luck matters. The American president enjoys buoyant economic conditions, part of a global economic surge; similarly, his French counterpart has benefited from an upswing in the eurozone. They both managed to pass, in their first year, a tax reform criticized by their opponents for mostly benefiting the wealthy and intended to convince the corporate world that they are on its side. But neither conforms to a classic ideological line; pundits in their respective countries struggle to define Macronism or Trumpism.
.. The approval ratings of President Macron, unlike those of President Trump, are on the rise.
.. Much of the future of the liberal democratic West will depend on these two mavericks’ fortunes.
he denounced the “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”
..McCain and Bannon are the antipodes of the Republican Party.
- The institutionalist versus the insurgent.
- The internationalist versus the America Firster.
- The maverick versus the ideologue.
- Above all, the hedgehog versus the honey badger.
The hedgehog, said the Greek poet Archilochus, knows one big thing.
.. On Monday McCain called America “the land of the immigrant’s dream,” and said: “We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil.”
To a large and growing segment of the G.O.P., which thinks magnanimity is for losers, these statements amount to a form of treason.
.. The honey badger, by contrast, will do anything to get what it wants. It is wily, nasty and has as much use for honor as a pornographer has for dress.
.. For the honey badger, it’s whatever works: anti-Semite one day; Israel’s make-believe champion the next. Bannon is the most revolting operator in American political life since Roy Cohn.
.. The goal isn’t to win elections but to purge the party and remake it in Bannon’s image. He wasn’t kidding when he told historian Ronald Radosh in 2013 that he’s a “Leninist.”
.. serve as a rallying point for a Republican Party that can save itself from dishonor, win its share of elections, and stand up to the honey badgers who mean to pillage it.
Mr. Trump is specifically evaluating whether to keep his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, in their current positions.
Although his personal behaviour is often clownish or boorish, and he has shown astonishing ignorance of some important international issues, Trump has a perfectly coherent world-view and strategy which are rooted in certain established American traditions, even if these are now largely defunct.
.. As for the idea that a Trump presidency would be a disaster, that is completely wide of the mark. It is actually much worse than most people think. President Trump has the potential to be an unmitigated catastrophe – if not for the United States, then certainly for the rest of the world.
.. We should not assume that this is just rhetoric. First, because Trump has been saying all this, or much of it, for years in his writings and in off-the cuff statements. He is no mere opportunist.
.. Trump emerges from the confluence of two long-dormant but now resurgent American political traditions: the blunt, early-19th-century appeal of Andrew Jackson to the “common man” and the protectionist isolationism that produced the Smoot-Hawley tariffs and the Charles Lindbergh of the 1930s.
.. The US is not seriously at risk of lapsing into the kind of populist authoritarianism we see in many other parts of the world. Moreover, the nature of the American constitution is such that Trump will be very constrained in what he can do at home: by Congress, by the courts and various other checks and balances.
..There are far fewer impediments, however, to presidential power in foreign policy. As so much of Trump’s domestic programme depends on what he does abroad, the rest of the world will be much more exposed to a Trump presidency than the Americans themselves.
.. Style will soon become substance. At best, a Trump presidency will lead to the “Berlusconification” of international politics, which will become extended reality-TV events
.. he seems to have a very limited and belligerent idea of what constitutes a successful diplomatic negotiation.
.. Trump views a political “deal” as the imposition of his will on the other side.
.. he writes of one successful transaction in his bestselling book The Art of the Deal, “we won by wearing everyone else down.” It is therefore no surprise that he cleaves to an essentially mercantilist view of world trade in which, say, Japan’s gain is America’s loss. Given his severe anger management issues, the great danger is that a clever adversary will get under his skin, provoke outbursts, and either make a laughing stock of the greatest power on Earth or precipitate a confrontation.
.. He has gone on record as saying that people “are surprised by how quickly I make big decisions, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts and not to overthink things”
.. No reliance should be placed here on the restraining force of his advisers, or of the bureaucracy in the US state and defence departments. Trump has already signalled that he will not listen
.. The foreign policy “team” he has produced during the campaign is the weakest and most obscure that anybody has encountered in living memory.
.. the parallels with his opposition to gun control are evident, is the field of nuclear non-proliferation. He has repeatedly welcomed the idea of a Saudi, or South Korean, or Japanese nuclear bomb. The thinking is that this will achieve a balance of terror, which will keep the peace better than costly American intervention.
.. Even if one thinks – as this author does – that some form of reckoning with China is necessary, Trump is surely the man temperamentally least suited to lead it. His strategy may revive American manufacturing, but modern supply chains are such that China is inextricably stitched into the US industrial ecosystem in ways that could defy safe unravelling.
.. Yet one thing is clear: China, which holds a huge chunk of the US federal debt, will bitterly resist any attempt to repudiate it. Moreover, if unplugged from the US market, particularly at a time of falling European demand, China will face vast economic dislocation and consequent internal unrest. One way or the other, the reaction to any such measures by the Americans will be violent, with a countdown to conflict comparable only to the one triggered by Franklin D Roosevelt’s decision in 1941 to freeze all Japanese assets in the US and impose an oil embargo on Japan.
.. Trump will encourage the European “deplorables”
.. His xenophobia and authoritarian personality will chime with them; his protectionism may even resonate on the European left. He will therefore be much less isolated in Europe than many like to think.
.. The walls will go up across Europe and we may not see them brought down again in our lifetime.
.. But the deadliest threat to European security is Trump’s attitude to Nato.
.. One of Trump’s top military advisers, Michael T Flynn, a retired general, is a Russia enthusiast. One of his most trusted former confidants, Paul Manafort, served as a long-term political consultant to the disgraced ex-president of Ukraine and Russian stooge Viktor Yanukovych. One of his few named foreign policy advisers, Carter Page, also has close links to Russia.
.. Yet he seems oblivious to this danger, largely because he does not take Russia seriously in economic terms. It is one of the many failings of his foreign policy, and a surprising one, given his general belligerence, that he does not take other factors, such as ideology or raw military power, much into account.
.. On the other hand, he may prefer to explore a strategic partnership with Trump. That will surely begin with a joint effort to support the Assad regime in Syria, and probably develop into an alliance against China.
.. In that case, we will be in a genuinely tripolar or even quadripolar world, in which the relationship between the Russo-American alliance, the British-European confederation and the other Eastern dictatorship, China, will be one of unstable equidistance.
.. Moreover, Trump will have much of the United States behind him in making his initial foreign policy moves. Demand that the Europeans “pay up” for their own defence? Why not? Beat up on China’s protectionism? What’s not to like? As for Isis, even Homeland’s Peter Quinn thinks that the solution is to “pound Raqqa into a parking lot”. It would take superhuman moral and political courage to stop Trump early on.
.. Many Europeans, in fact, will cheer him on. At home and abroad, Trump will the harvest low-hanging fruit first, and then invest the capital gained in riskier enterprises. When he does really overstep the mark, it will be too late.
Two hallmarks of Mr. Trudeau’s government since it took power 10 months ago have been admitting Syrian refugees and promising action on climate change.
While he raised both of those issues in his speech on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau also used the occasion to underscore another two of his favorite themes: optimism and internationalism.
.. Instead, he used much of his time to challenge other politicians for, in his view, exploiting anxiety.
“Fear has never created a single job or fed a single family,” Mr. Trudeau said. “People want their problems solved, not exploited.”