The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies
The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force
A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order
For three decades, roughly since the end of the cold war, American foreign policy has been the subject of a passionate battle among three groups with radically different views of the part the United States should play in the world and of whether force or diplomacy should be its primary method.
Neoconservatives, who were passionate advocates for the Iraq war, want the United States to be the world’s policeman, concerned not only with states’ external behavior but with their internal adherence to American values, which, they believe, the United States should impose principally through the use of force. They care little for international agreements, believing that bad guys will flout them and good guys don’t need them.
Liberal internationalists, most of whom are supporting the current nuclear agreement with Iran, also want the US to act globally. But they want to build an increasingly strong international system of cooperation and alliances and avoid unilateralism. They see international progress deriving from increasing interdependence and agreed-upon rules to which the United States, however exceptional it may be, must adhere.
For realists, international relations are propelled by powerful states promoting their own self-interest. This view holds that the US should concentrate on its relations with the other great powers and on the balance of power in the most important regions and not waste resources on other parts of the world. Generally, realists argue for a much more limited US involvement in the conflicts of the Middle East.
The global financial crash of 2008 at America’s hands, the rise of ISIS, the transformation of Russia under President Vladimir Putin into a dangerous and committed adversary marked by its 2014 annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine, nuclear weapons programs in North Korea and Iran, cyber interventions in the US election, and a steadily more nationalistic and militarily provocative China—all of these have dramatically raised the stakes of these conflicts over policy. The crux is no longer in deciding how far America should reach in deploying its power and forcing its values on others, but in what it must do to meet a cascade of challenges to its core interests and national security.
Into this particularly dangerous moment comes Donald Trump. What he has done is to take the few things on which neocons, realists, and liberal internationalists agree and throw them out the window. These are fundamentals of American foreign policy, taken as givens by both parties for the seven decades since the close of World War II. They include, first, the recognition of the immense value to the security of the United States provided by its allies and worldwide military and political alliances.
Second, there is the belief that the global economy is not a zero-sum competition, but a mutually beneficial growth system built on open trade and investment. Since the 1940s the United States has invested in the growth…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.