Trump enables despotism

Roger Cohen writes: So the threats were no more than bluster, and all is well. That is one view of President Trump’s foreign policy at the 100-day-or-so mark.


Yes, there’s no sign of the Wall, and NATO is no longer “obsolete,” and the “One China” policy has not been scrapped, and the Iran nuclear agreement endures despite Trump’s dismissal of it as “the worst deal ever,” and the United States embassy is still in Tel Aviv, and neither the Paris climate deal nor the North American Free Trade Agreement has been abandoned.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, have ring-fenced Trump’s recklessness and bellicosity. They have neutralized his ignorance even if nobody can help the president grasp its extent. Some of the loonier members of the president’s entourage have been fired or marginalized. Adults have taken charge. There is still a lot of noise, but “America First” has not upended the world.

Except that it has. A disaster is unfolding whose consequences for humanity and decency will be devastating.

The United States under Trump has embarked on a valueless foreign policy. The president has not met a strongman whose machismo does not beguile him. He prefers guns to diplomats. Militarism and mercantilism constitute a new policy, unconstrained by any consideration of what the United States stands for in the world or the values its alliances have defended since 1945.

This is a radical departure. America is also an idea. That idea is inextricable — whatever the country’s conspicuous failings — from the defense of liberty, democracy, human rights, open societies and the rule of law. Realist, neoconservative and liberal internationalist schools have different interpretations of how this may be achieved, and what limits exist on America’s capacity to extend the reach of freedom. But the unblushing, public embrace of the torturer for mutual gain does not appear in any pre-Trump foreign policy manual I know.

A “very friendly” conversation with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines leads to a White House invitation for a man accused of waging a brutal extrajudicial drug war. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey cements his repressive and increasingly imperious rule in a dubious referendum and gets a congratulatory call from Trump. The red carpet rolls out for Egypt’s autocratic president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who becomes Trump’s “great friend.” President Xi Jinping of China goes from currency manipulator to “terrific person” and seems to inspire in Trump an embarrassing awe. President Vladimir Putin of Russia, having been lumped early on with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany as somebody Trump may or may not be able to trust, basks still in Trump’s agnosticism on brutality.

The message is clear: The United States has granted carte blanche for despots. [Continue reading…]

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