Trump's World View Sets Back Foreign Relations to Pre-WWII

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 31, 2017 | Go to article overview

Trump's World View Sets Back Foreign Relations to Pre-WWII


In his first days in office, Donald Trump has begun to reverse the domestic policies of the previous eight years. But with regard to America's relations with the world, Trump seems far more radical. In word and deed, he appears to be walking away from the idea of America at the center of an open, rule-based international order. This would be a reversal of more than 70 years of American foreign policy.

In an essay in The New York Review of Books, Jessica Mathews points out that since 1945, Americans of both political parties have accepted three principles. First, that America's security is enhanced by its broad and deep alliances around the world. Second, that an open global economy is not a zero-sum game but rather allows America to prosper and others to grow. And finally, while there was debate about whether dictatorships were to be "tolerated, managed, or confronted," in the end there was a faith in democracy and its advantages. Mathews notes that for 30 years now, Donald Trump has attacked these views as costly naivet that has allowed the world to rip off America.

Given the magnitude of the policy shift, it is worth recalling why America adopted this outward-looking approach in the first place. It all started with Franklin Roosevelt, as Nigel Hamilton explains in his superb book "Commander in Chief." By 1943, while victory was still a distant prospect, Roosevelt began to imagine a postwar international system. Hamilton brilliantly sets out Roosevelt's foresight, determination and skill in establishing a new world order.

Neither of FDR's key wartime allies was much interested in his approach. Josef Stalin, a communist autocrat, would resist many of his ideas, and Winston Churchill was stubbornly committed to continuing Britain's rule over its vast empire. Roosevelt wanted something different: to establish an enduring peace in which freedom could flourish. That meant the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan, to wipe the slate clean of fascism and militarism. And it meant that Britain and France would have to decolonize Asia and Africa. Roosevelt despised the system of colonial exploitation, and he believed that ultimately it created the conditions that led to revolution and war. He also wanted open trade, rather than the ruinous protectionism of the 1930s. To secure all this, FDR understood that America would need to be permanently engaged with the world in a way it had never been before. …

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