Understandably, a great deal of the foreign policy debate in the first year of the Trump presidency has centered on process — the dysfunction and exodus of career Foreign Service people from the State Department, the tenuous relationship between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Trump, and whether foreign policy can be coherent when the most carefully enunciated policy can be upended by an erratic tweet.
If the election showed us anything, it is that the American people are quite uncertain about the United States’ role in the world. “They have doubts about the investment of blood and treasure,” says Victoria Nuland, a State Department veteran of five presidents and the newly named chief executive of the nonpartisan think tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS). I spoke to her by telephone in her first week on the job. She enters the think-tank world at a critical juncture. The 70-year consensus that the liberal world order was beneficial for the United States is now up for debate. As Nuland posits, the question confronts us: Is America’s international leadership “leading to increased prosperity and security … or is America getting ripped off?”
The president himself has created confusion and anxiety by positing a policy he calls “America first.” Now, the administration is at pains to say it really means “America first, but not alone.” This, one can say, is gibberish and personifies the intellectual incoherence that the president has spewed. And that is a problem. “No matter who is in office, the president has to lead the conversation, has to sell the affirmative investment [in lives and money] we are making.” When the current president consistently suggests our allies are “freeloaders” and our commitments aren’t paying dividends, one can hardly expect the public to support a strong role for the United States in the world.
Read the full article in The Washington Post.