Magazine article USA TODAY

President Disrupter

Magazine article USA TODAY

President Disrupter

Article excerpt

SINCE ENTERING the White House, Pres. Donald Trump not only has succeeded in erasing much of Barack Obama's domestic and foreign policy legacies, his "America First" doctrine has done much to undermine the liberal international order that the U.S. helped to create and maintain since the end of World War II.

That world order is called liberal because of the values it seeks to perpetuate, including democracy, respect for human rights, individual freedom, the rule of law, and open economic international relations. It is supported by a number of multinational institutions that are designed to keep the peace and foster international economic stability, such as the United Nations, World Bank, World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund.

A key feature of this international order is the continuing leadership of the U.S. in maintaining the security, prosperity, and democratic nature of its member states. The U.S. sent troops to Europe to fight Germany in both world wars and to Asia in WWII to combat Japan. To contain the further expansion of the Soviet Union following World War II, the U.S. helped to create the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Today, membership in NATO commits the U.S. to the defense of 27 European nations and Canada.

In addition to Europe, the U.S. is allied with Japan and South Korea, where it has deployed military forces since the end of WWII. These alliances were designed not only to contain the then-Soviet Union, but to create a community of nations whose members did not fear one other. The alliances also help to prevent their members from spiraling into conflict.

For instance, the security that NATO provides Germany makes it unnecessary for the Germans to re-create a large army, a move that would unsettle their neighbors. The U.S. also provides much of Japan's security in order to preclude massive Japanese militarization, which would worry America's other East Asians allies, particularly South Korea and the Philippines.

U.S. presidents also have supported the United Nations' multitudinous activities, including its worldwide peacekeeping actions and its humanitarian relief efforts with money and sometimes with soldiers.

Moreover, the U.S. has participated in the negotiation of a wide variety of international agreements that are designed to protect the world's environment. In 2015, for example, Pres. Obama signed the Paris Climate Agreement, which committed the U.S. to curtail carbon emissions that threaten the Earth's biosphere. In addition, U.S. presidents have negotiated international agreements reducing the number of existing nuclear weapons to curb their spread throughout the world.

To prevent another Great Depression and the ruinous trade wars that helped to trigger the outbreak of World War II, the U.S. took the lead in creating an open economic system, which has made possible the most rapid and prolonged economic expansion in world history. Even more important, this international order provides the economic glue that binds together most of the nations of the world, thereby making another global war unthinkable.

The international order has a political component as well. Its architects believed that peace, prosperity, and individual fulfillment could be the products of a world based not only on open economic relations, but on respect for individual rights, the rule of law, and democratic governments checked by independent judiciaries, free presses, and vibrant civil societies. The expansion of open markets, they insisted, inevitably would lead to the expansion of democracy--and it did.

However, buffeted by the effects of the Great Recession, populist insurgencies, the resurgence of authoritarian governments in Eastern Europe, and the aggression of Vladimir Putin's Russia, the liberal international order was shaken to its foundation during the Obama presidency. The spread of democracy and the advancement of human rights not only ground to a halt, in some countries, such as Poland and Hungary, it is in retreat. …

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