“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
Few foreign policy issues have attracted more attention in recent years than the problem of sustaining the U.S.-led liberal international order. After World War II, the United States sponsored a set of institutions, rules, and norms designed to avoid repeating the mistakes of the 1930s and promote peace, prosperity, and democracy. The resulting system has served as the bedrock of U.S. national security strategy ever since. In everything from arms control to peacekeeping to trade to human rights, marrying U.S. power and international norms and institutions has achieved significant results. Washington continues to put maintaining the international order at the center of the United States’ global role.
Yet the survival of that order—indeed, of any ordering principles at all—now seems in question. Dissatisfied countries such as China and Russia view its operation as unjust, and people around the world are angry about the economic and social price they’ve had to pay for globalization.
“America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” Henry Kissinger’s observation about United States foreign policy can, indeed, be applied to most countries. It comes to no surprise to any, that leaders of every country are expected to do everything in their power to expand the interests of their nation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is no exception to this rule. While enjoying the popular support of an immensely Islamized Turkish citizenry, he has realized that the interests of his country greatly differ from those of the West. It is now very clear that Turkey’s alliance with America and the West has expired.
One would assume that, after a failed coup, the leader of a nation would undertake reforms that alleviate internal pressures, guaranteeing the safety and stability of the state. A president may also remove subversive elements in the nation itself, that is not what Erdogan has done. Instead, the autocrat has had a whopping 110,000 people detained, fired, or suspended.
The United States’ relationship with Iran tops the list of foreign policy issues that will confront President-elect Donald Trump when he takes office in January. Like many of the other Republican presidential candidates, Trump was an early and staunch opponent of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the controversial nuclear deal concluded last summer between six world powers and Iran. But Trump took up contradictory positions on the deal over the course of his campaign, at times promising to tear it up and at others suggesting he would simply amend it.
As Trump readies his administration, he is likely to favor the latter course. For a host of reasons, it may be impractical for his administration to scuttle the agreement outright. Still, there is much that Washington can do with respect to Iran, especially by more rigorously enforcing the nuclear deal and constraining Iranian expansionism.
We face the greatest challenges to our security in a generation. This is no time to question the value of the partnership between Europe and the United States.
Nato troops on patrol in Kabul last year. Photograph: Ahmad Masood/Reuters
For 67 years this partnership has been the bedrock of peace, freedom and prosperity in Europe. It enabled us successfully to deter the Soviet Union and bring the cold war to an end. And it made possible the integration of Europe and laid the foundation for the unprecedented peace and prosperity we enjoy today. European leaders have always understood that when it comes to security, going it alone is not an option.
At the same time, American leaders have always recognised that they had profound strategic interest in a stable and secure Europe. And throughout the last 67 years America has had no more steadfast and reliable partner.
The only time Nato has invoked its self-defence clause, that an attack on one is an attack on all, was in support of the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This was more than just a symbol. Nato went on to take charge of the operation in Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of European soldiers have served in Afghanistan since. And more than 1,000 have paid the ultimate price in an operation that is a direct response to an attack against the United States. Today of all days, we remember them.
On both sides of the Atlantic leaders have always understood that a stronger, safer and more prosperous Europe means a stronger, safer and more prosperous United States. This partnership between Europe and the United States, embodied in the Nato alliance, remains essential for both.
Who the Americans put in the White House makes a big difference to the world because US presidents have considerable power to shape foreign policy.
Think Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam; Richard Nixon and the opening to China; George Bushes Senior and Junior and their Iraq wars.
This election offers voters a real choice. Despite Donald Trump’s sometimes incoherent and seemingly improvisational approach to foreign policy, the two candidates do offer quite different visions. Hillary Clinton firmly believes the US role is to uphold a global security order from which it also benefits, the Pax Americana at the core of traditional US military and diplomatic thinking.
Donald Trump’s America First approach is more transactional. He frames alliances in business terms, vowing to get better value from them or pull back from historic commitments he says the US can no longer afford.
This is how their differences might play out in key international issues.
In no other area has Donald Trump departed more radically from decades of US foreign policy than his approach to traditional relationships. He has castigated Nato as outdated and obsolete and characterised its members as ungrateful allies who benefit from US largesse.
He says America can no longer afford to protect countries in Europe – and in Asia – without adequate compensation, suggesting he would withdraw American forces unless they pay up.
He’s also said Nato members like the Baltic states couldn’t count on the US to come to their military aid if attacked by Russia, unless they’d fulfilled their obligations.
Mr Trump is voicing longstanding criticisms. President Obama has also expressed frustration that most Nato members don’t meet their goal of spending at least 2% of GDP on defence.
But Mr Obama stands firmly by the military alliance. As does Mrs Clinton, who proclaims Nato one of the best investments America has ever made.
For the first time in recent memory, large numbers of Americans are openly questioning their country’s grand strategy. An April 2016 Pew poll found that 57 percent of Americans agree that the United States should “deal with its own problems and let others deal with theirs the best they can.” On the campaign trail, both the Democrat Bernie Sanders and the Republican Donald Trump found receptive audiences whenever they questioned the United States’ penchant for promoting democracy, subsidizing allies’ defense, and intervening militarily—leaving only the likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to defend the status quo.
Americans’ distaste for the prevailing grand strategy should come as no surprise, given its abysmal record over the past quarter century. In Asia, India, Pakistan, and North Korea are expanding their nuclear arsenals, and China is challenging the status quo in regional waters. In Europe, Russia has annexed Crimea, and U.S. relations with Moscow have sunk to new lows since the Cold War. U.S. forces are still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, with no victory in sight. Despite losing most of its original leaders, al Qaeda has metastasized across the region. The Arab world has fallen into turmoil—in good part due to the United States’ decisions to effect regime change in Iraq and Libya and its modest efforts to do the same in Syria—and the Islamic State, or ISIS, has emerged out of the chaos. Repeated U.S. attempts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace have failed, leaving a two-state solution further away than ever. Meanwhile, democracy has been in retreat worldwide, and the United States’ use of torture, targeted killings, and other morally dubious practices has tarnished its image as a defender of human rights and international law.
Was the feud between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, first over settlements and then over Iran, a watershed? Netanyahu, it is claimed, turned U.S. support of Israel into a partisan issue. Liberals, including many American Jews, are said to be fed up with Israel’s “occupation,” which will mark its 50th anniversary next year. The weakening of Israel’s democratic ethos is supposedly undercutting the “shared values” argument for the relationship. Some say Israel’s dogged adherence to an “unsustainable” status quo in the West Bank has made it a liability in a region in the throes of change. Israel, it is claimed, is slipping into pariah status, imposed by the global movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).
Biblical-style lamentations over Israel’s final corruption have been a staple of the state’s critics and die-hard anti-Zionists for 70 years. Never have they been so detached from reality. Of course, Israel has changed—decidedly for the better. By every measure, Israel is more globalized, prosperous, and democratic than at any time in its history. As nearby parts of the Middle East slip under waves of ruthless sectarian strife, Israel’s minorities rest secure. As Europe staggers under the weight of unwanted Muslim migrants, Israel welcomes thousands of Jewish immigrants from Europe. As other Mediterranean countries struggle with debt and unemployment, Israel boasts a growing economy, supported by waves of foreign investment.
Politically, Netanyahu’s tenure has been Israel’s least tumultuous. Netanyahu has served longer than any other Israeli prime minister except David Ben-Gurion, yet he has led Israel in only one ground war: the limited Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014. “I’d feel better if our partner was not the trigger-happy Netanyahu,” wrotethe New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd four years ago. But Netanyahu hasn’t pulled triggers, even against Iran. The Israeli electorate keeps returning him to office precisely because he is risk averse: no needless wars, but no ambitious peace plans either. Although this may produce “overwhelming frustration” in Obama’s White House, in Vice President Joe Biden’s scolding phrase, it suits the majority of Israeli Jews just fine.