A common narrative put forward by critics of President Donald Trump is that he is undermining the U.S.-backed post-World War II sense of world order and rule of law imposed around the globe and maintained by U.S. might and treasure.
But in a surprising bit of commentary from the Foreign Policy website, one author argues that the three Presidents before Trump, (and their administrations, including Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) “killed” the liberal world order.
Stephen M. Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard University, wrote that the “death of the global order” was actually a direct result of the foreign policy actions of former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Make no mistake, Walt is no fan of the current president, and even put forward the suggestion that Trump’s 2016 election and presidency could have been avoided altogether, had the previous presidents not created the various situations that Trump was able to tap into to garner support from the American people during his campaign.
U.S.-backed global order
A significant aspect of that is the idea that the United States is an “indispensable nation” on the global stage, one that would support and spread a “liberal hegemony” worldwide by toppling dictators, spreading democracy, sanctioning “rogue states” and corralling “as many countries as possible into security institutions led by the United States,” such as NATO.
Indeed, while all of the focus was placed on foreign “nation building” in that regard, little attention was paid to our nation’s domestic needs, such as “strengthening our armed forces, providing better health care for U.S. citizens, rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure, investing in early childhood education, or reducing persistent deficits,” among countless other issues.
Meanwhile, the law of unintended consequences meant that many of the foreign policy actions undertaken by Clinton, Bush and Obama brought about unforeseen results that ran counter to the original ideal of a peaceful world governed by a central order led by the U.S.
Those consequences were broad, including allowing for a resurgence by Russia and emergence by China as global powers, a Middle East more divided and conflicted than ever before, a nuclearized India, Pakistan and North Korea — with Iran on the verge of joining that exclusive club — more authoritarianism, more terrorism and a growing backlash to the U.S.-backed “order” previously put in place.
Embracing Trump’s policies pre-Trump
Interestingly, Walt laid out several things that the aforementioned prior presidents could have done differently to improve the situation, which ironically read almost as if it were ripped from a campaign speech on foreign policy by Trump.
Some of those “might have been” things included resisting the urge to expand NATO while encouraging European nations to stand up and defend themselves, as well as allowing Middle Eastern nations to “check” each other without our involvement and not taking a side in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute.
Those two things, among others, would have lessened the likelihood of Russian aggression to counter NATO expansion and reduced the reasons for terrorism against the U.S., which might have avoided the 9/11 terror attack that pushed the U.S. to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, which cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.
In other words, had the previous presidents maintained an “America First” brand of foreign policy, rather than a nation-building “liberal hegemony” policy of policing the globe, there would have been no great outcry for a man like Trump to come along and fix all of the unnecessarily created problems.