August 12, 2020

The Death and Rebirth of American Internationalism

By Edward Fishman

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.

  • Commentary
    • September 9, 2020
    Sharper: The Next Congress

    When the 117th Congress is sworn in next January, legislators have the opportunity to exert substantial influence on the future of America's role in the world....

    By Katie Galgano, Chris Estep & Cole Stevens

  • Commentary
    • Lawfare
    • August 11, 2020
    Republicans Can Learn From Democrats’ Foreign Affairs Committee Contest

    Republican legislators in both the House and the Senate have ample time to draw lessons from Engel’s loss and translate them into reform....

    By Chris Estep

  • Commentary
    • Foreign Policy
    • May 13, 2020
    The United States Can’t Afford to Turn Away Chinese Talent

    Intellectual property theft is a real concern, and China has been the world’s foremost infringer. But a blanket exclusion of Chinese students from U.S. academic and scien...

    By Elsa B. Kania & Lindsay Gorman

  • Commentary
    • War on the Rocks
    • April 23, 2020
    To Prepare for a Crisis, Read Fiction

    Fiction and policy too rarely mix. The learned policymaker reads reports and journal articles, books and research papers, all aimed at injecting the highest-quality thinking i...

    By Richard Fontaine

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia