What happens when the whole world becomes selfish

David Ignatius writes: When the leader of the global system proclaims that he won’t be bound by foreign restraints, the spirit becomes infectious. Call the global zeitgeist what you will: The new realism. Eyes on the prize. Winning isn’t the most important thing, it’s the only thing.

Middle East leaders have been notably more aggressive in asserting their own versions of national interest. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates defied pleas from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to stop escalating their blockade against Qatar for allegedly supporting extremism. Their argument was simple self-interest: If Qatar wants to ally with the Gulf Arabs, then it must accept our rules. Otherwise, Qatar is out.

For the leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan, the issue has been whether to wait on their dream of independence. They decided to go ahead with their referendum, despite worries among top U.S. officials that it could upset American efforts to hold Iraq together and thereby destabilize the region. The implicit Kurdish answer: That’s not our problem. We need to do what’s right for our people.

Trump has at least been consistent. His aides cite a benchmark speech he made April 27, 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, in which he offered an early systematic “America first” pitch. He argued that the country had been blundering around the world with half-baked, do-gooder schemes “since the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union.”

Trump explained: “It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western democracy. We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed.”

What’s interesting is that this same basic critique has been made, almost word for word, by Russian President Vladimir Putin. That’s not a conspiracy-minded argument that Trump is Putin’s man, but simply an observation that our president embraces the same raw cynicism about values-based foreign policy as does the leader of Russia. [Continue reading…]

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