The first year of the Trump administration might not have brought a wholesale transformation of American strategy, but it has set the stage for one. The coming months will show whether this was a reversible detour from the course America has followed for the past 70 years, or the beginning of the end of the post-World War II world order. Much is at stake in this very dangerous time.
Since the defeat of the Axis powers in 1945, the United States has equated its national interests with a system of global order that attempted to minimize armed conflict and promote prosperity by partnerships, diplomacy and, when absolutely necessary, military action. Recognizing that no other nation could engineer such a complex and massive undertaking, the United States assumed a leading role. It did not do this out of altruism but because America benefited from it.
Recognizing that global leadership gave special weight to America’s actions and words, U.S. presidents spoke with care and restraint to avoid needlessly alienating partners and provoking adversaries. They used the language of diplomacy not out of fear or weakness but because it worked, advancing U.S. national interests by reassuring allies and deterring enemies. Democratic and Republican administrations varied in their approach to the world, but all operated within this general strategic framework.