January 15, 2017 – FOREIGN POLICY

Click on WORD or PDF for full content



We take this occasion to examine some of the issues facing Donald Trump when he turns away from domestic concerns. Using Henry Kissinger’s ideas about foreign policy, historian Niall Ferguson applies some structure to how we might view the world and our position in it. 

… Let us begin with the geopolitical landscape that Trump inherits from his predecessor. In his most recent book World Order (2014), Kissinger argues that the world is in a parlous condition verging on international anarchy. This is not only because of shifts in the material balance of power from West to East, but also because the legitimacy of the postwar world order is being challenged. Four competing visions of world order—the European-Westphalian, the Islamic, the Chinese, and the American—are each in varying stages of metamorphosis, if not decay. Consequently, real legitimacy inheres broadly in none of these visions. The emergent properties of the new world disorder are the formation of “regional blocs” with incompatible worldviews.1 These, he fears, are likely to rub up against one another in a way that escalates: “A struggle between regions could be even more destructive than the struggle between nations has been.”2

Contrary to those who claim the world has transcended any prospect of major systemic war, Kissinger argues that the contemporary global context is highly flammable. There is a profound tension between economic globalization and the political persistence of the nation-state, which the 2008 financial crisis laid bare. Second, we are acquiescing in the proliferation of nuclear weapons far beyond the Cold War “club.” We also have the new realm of cyberwarfare, a novel version of Hobbes’s “state of nature.” 3 Here and in his recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, as well as in private conversations with his biographer,4 Kissinger has outlined four scenarios he regards as the most likely catalysts for a large-scale conflict: …

… Donald Trump therefore enters the Oval Office with an underestimated advantage. Obama’s foreign policy has been a failure, most obviously in the Middle East, where the smoldering ruin that is Syria—not to mention Iraq and Libya—attests to the fundamental naivety of his approach, dating all the way back to the 2009 Cairo speech. The President came to believe he had an ingenious strategy to establish geopolitical balance between Sunni and Shi’a. But by treating America’s Arab friends with open disdain, while cutting a nuclear deal with Iran that has left Tehran free to wage proxy wars across the region, Obama has achieved not peace but a fractal geometry of conflict and a frightening, possibly nuclear, arms race. At the same time, he has allowed Russia to become a major player in the Middle East for the first time since Kissinger squeezed the Soviets out of Egypt in the 1972-79 period. The death toll in the Syrian war now approaches half a million; who knows how much higher it will rise between now and Inauguration Day?

Meanwhile, global terrorism has surged under Obama. …

… The “Obama Doctrine” has failed in Europe, too, where English voters opted to leave the EU in defiance of the President’s threats, and where the German leadership he recently praised has delivered, first, an unnecessarily protracted financial crisis in the European periphery and, second, a disastrous influx to the core of migrants, some but not all of them refugees from a region that Europe had intervened in just enough to exacerbate its instability. The President has also failed in eastern Europe, where not only has Ukraine been invaded and Crimea annexed, but also Hungary and now Poland have opted to deviate sharply from the President’s liberal “arc of history.” Finally, his foreign policy has failed in Asia, where little remains of the much-vaunted pivot. “If you look at how we’ve operated in the South China Sea,” the President boasted in an interview published in March, “we have been able to mobilize most of Asia to isolate China in ways that have surprised China, frankly, and have very much served our interest in strengthening our alliances.”11 The new President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, apparently did not receive this memorandum. In October he went to Beijing’s Great Hall of the People to announce his “separation from the United States.”

All of this means that merely by changing Obama’s foreign policy President Trump is likely to achieve at least some success. The question is, how exactly should he go about this change? …

… who should serve as Donald Trump’s strategic role model? Although his name did not come up in Kissinger’s interview with Goldberg, there is an obvious answer, clearly articulated in the former Secretary of State’s classic work of synthesis, Diplomacy. That answer is Theodore Roosevelt, the antithesis of Woodrow Wilson, Kissinger’s bête noire.

“Roosevelt,” wrote Kissinger, “started from the premise that the United States was a power like any other, not a singular incarnation of virtue. If its interests collided with those of other countries, America had the obligation to draw on its strength to prevail.”13 Roosevelt did not build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, but he did formulate the “Corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine, which asserted the right of the United States to exercise “however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of . . . wrong-doing or impotence . . . an international police power” in Latin America and the Caribbean. That principle became the basis for interventions in Haiti, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba—and for the acquisition of the territory on which the Panama Canal was constructed: one of the great infrastructure projects of the early 1900s.

Moreover, Roosevelt was dismissive of liberal designs such as multilateral disarmament and collective security, enthusiasms not only of Woodrow Wilson but of the three-times-defeated Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan: …

… He called for legislation to exclude and deport anarchists—legislation duly passed by Congress and signed into law in March 1903. Today, for anarchism read radical Islam.

In a speech he gave in St. Louis in May 1916, Roosevelt summed up his views on immigration in language that resonates today, a century later. “If the American has the right stuff in him, I care not a snap of my fingers whether he is Jew or Gentile, Catholic or Protestant,” he declared. “But unless the immigrant becomes in good faith an American and nothing else, then he is out of place in this country, and the sooner he leaves the better.” The target of Roosevelt’s rhetoric was the wartime habit of accentuating the identities and supposedly divided loyalties of “Irish-Americans” and “German-Americans.” The context was different, but the issue is as relevant today, when Islamists assert that American Muslims owe a higher loyalty to their religion, if not to the caliphate.23 “Our duty,” Roosevelt said,

… is to the United States. This duty should constrain us . . . to treat the other nations primarily according to the way such treatment serves American interests. . . . The attempt to keep . . . a half citizenship, with a divided loyalty, split between devotion to the land in which they were born and which their children are to dwell, and the land from which their fathers came . . . is certain to breed a spirit of bitterness and prejudice and dislike between great bodies of our citizens.24 …

If it is this spirit that animates the Trump Administration, then its new order will not be so new, nor altogether so bad as many fear.



Bret Stephens asks important questions about the “two state solution.”

… Would a Palestinian state serve the cause of Mideast peace? This used to be conventional wisdom, on the theory that a Palestinian state would lead to peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, easing the military burdens on the former and encouraging the latter to address their internal discontents.

Today the proposition is ridiculous. No deal between Jerusalem and Ramallah is going to lift the sights of those now fighting in Syria, Iraq or Yemen. Nor will a deal reconcile Tehran and its terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza to the existence of a Jewish state. As for the rest of the neighborhood, Israel has diplomatic relations with Turkey, Jordan and Egypt, and has reached pragmatic accommodations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

What about the interests of Palestinians? Aren’t they entitled to a state?

Maybe. But are they more entitled to one than the Assamese, Basques, Baloch, Corsicans, Druze, Flemish, Kashmiris, Kurds, Moros, Native Hawaiians, Northern Cypriots, Rohingya, Tibetans, Uyghurs or West Papuans—all of whom have distinct national identities, legitimate historical grievances and plausible claims to statehood?

If so, what gives Palestinians the preferential claim? Have they waited longer than the Kurds? No: Kurdish national claims stretch for centuries, not decades. Have they experienced greater violations to their culture than Tibetans? No: Beijing has conducted a systematic policy of repression for 67 years, whereas Palestinians are nothing if not vocal in mosques, universities and the media. Have they been persecuted more harshly than the Rohingya? Not even close.

Set the comparisons aside. Would a Palestinian state be good for Palestinian people?

That’s a more subjective judgment. But a telling figure came in a June 2015 poll conducted by the PalestinianCenter for Public Opinion, which found that a majority of Arab residents in East Jerusalem would rather live as citizens with equal rights in Israel than in a Palestinian state. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>