August 12, 2020

The Death and Rebirth of American Internationalism

For the first three years of Donald Trump’s presidency, U.S. foreign policy hovered in suspended animation. Trump wreaked plenty of havoc: disparaging allies, issuing tariffs as if they were tweets, and exiting international compacts willy-nilly. But many in the U.S. foreign policy establishment held out hope that these perversions would be like a bad dream—an unsettling interval after which things could return to normal, not a decisive break in America’s approach to the world.

The time has come for Americans to rethink their country’s role in the world and fashion an internationalism suited to today’s realities.

This hope was not without justification. While the implementation of U.S. foreign policy has fluctuated widely across administrations, the overarching aims have remained remarkably stable since the end of the Cold War. From George H. W. Bush’s “new world order” to Bill Clinton’s “democratic enlargement,” George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” to Barack Obama’s “rules-based international order,” the goal has been to extend the reach of democracy and free markets around the globe. During the Cold War, the United States and its allies built one international order, and the Soviet Union built another. For the past thirty years, the United States has sought to universalize the order that survived the fall of the Berlin Wall—a project we can call liberal universalism. Its objective—expanding an order that already existed—explains why there has been little innovation in international organizations since the end of the Cold War, whereas Washington has labored to increase membership in institutions that predate 1989.

Read the full article in the Boston Review.

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