Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Letting Go

Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Letting Go

Article excerpt

Nobody really knew what to expect when Donald Trump became U.S. president. Would he disrupt the status quo or maintain it? Blow himself up or escape unscathed? One year in, the answer is yes.

If you squint, U.S. foreign policy during the Trump era can seem almost normal. But the closer you look, the more you see it being hollowed out, with the forms and structures still in place but the substance and purpose draining away.

The best analogy might be to health care-something else the administration came in hell-bent on overhauling, only to find it more difficult than expected. In foreign policy, too, the Trump administration came to power promising a revolution. But the White House has failed to kill the existing approach outright and has grudgingly contented itself with hopes that it will die of neglect anyway.

In the board game Diplomacy, the rules state that "if a player leaves the game, or otherwise fails to submit orders," the player's country is deemed to be in "civil disorder." The country's pieces stand in place, defend themselves if attacked, and let the game proceed around them. That's basically what's happening with the United States now.

Confronted with this unprecedented situation, Eliot Cohen concedes that to date, the administration's foreign policy might be considered "a highly erratic, obnoxious version of the Republican normal." But he argues that this is because the bill for the administration's unconventional behavior has not yet arrived.

Jake Sullivan examines the surprising resilience of the liberal international order, which has managed to take a licking and keep on ticking-so far. …

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