Then to Now: The Shift of American Foreign Policy, and Where Trump Stands
In 2020, President Donald J. Trump has picked up multiple nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize. This is something the casual viewer of mainstream media outlets certainly would find stunning, given his constant portrayal as an autocratic tyrant, a fascist, and occasionally worse. While he did not win the 2020 prize, he has already been nominated for 2021 as well.
Why would he be nominated? One Finnish member of the European Parliament, Laura Huhtasaari, noted that Trump has made an effort to "end the era of endless wars, construct peace by encouraging dialogue and negotiations, as well as underpin internal cohesion" of various feuding nations (Shaw, 2020). Indeed, something curious has happened under President Trump that our Founders would likely have appreciated: no new wars, a desire for open communication and fair trade, and the recognition that aggressive foreign policy abroad tends to promote statism domestically. Who would have guessed four years ago that we would now have a major deal with Israel and Bahrain, another between Kosovo and Serbia, and even genuine progress with the North Koreans? With this in mind, it's worth looking at American foreign policy historically and presently, and how it would likely look moving forward with a second Trump term.
Since the inception of the nation up until World War 2, America largely remained a non-interventionist nation. Non-Interventionism implies the willingness to trade with almost any nation, have open lines of communication, and intervene politically or militarily only when it was absolutely clear that major American interests were at stake. The advent of the 20th century saw Progressive Teddy Roosevelt argue for America to serve as the world's police force, so to speak, while President Woodrow Wilson nudged America into a somewhat more aggressive role as it entered into World War I three years after that war's onset. After World War II, much of the Establishment, both right and left, felt that America needed a more proactive role in world affairs: foreign aid, military protection, and outright occupation at times became the norm. Walter Isaacson's and Evan Thomas's nominal book, The Wise Men, chronicles how six men in particular — William Harriman; Robert Lovett; Dean Acheson; John McCloy, Jr.; George Kennan; and Charles Bohlen — became the intellectual nucleus for much of the post–World War II policies all the way through Vietnam, with their influence continuing long after. In fact, it could be argued that the interventionist method of foreign policy endured all the way through the Obama administration, although perhaps in a radically different way from what the original interventionist architects intended.
Harriman and company, "were staunch capitalist[s]. ... In their mind there was a link between free trade, free markets, and free men[.] ... This outlook involved, of course, an implicit assumption that the rest of the world naturally desired the system of democratic capitalism, liberal values, and economic trade enjoyed by those in the West" (Isaacson & Thomas, pp. 32–33). Post-1945 it seemed to make sense that with a little economic assistance to recover from the destruction of the war, with military protection against the aggressive communist nations, free trade and free elections would result in a civilized, peaceful world. Certainly, these men did not want to leave a vacuum of power for the Soviets to fill unchallenged. While this break away from President Washington's warning to avoid entangling alliances had some various successes (Israel stands out), there were drawbacks to the more interventionist philosophy used over the long term. It can breed corruption (the current Hunter Biden scandal with Ukraine, for example), all resources used overseas are no longer available for domestic needs, and it's dependent upon an economic powerhouse free from the shackles of debt and stagnancy. With this in mind, we will examine President Trump's shift back toward non-interventionism and what it means for the United States and the world moving forward.
Should President Trump secure his re-election, it's likely the foriegn policy of old should be cast away in favor of addressing America's current needs: massive national debt, internal instability, and a crisis in the economy after COVID-19's impact. In terms of foreign policy spending and debt, the process has already begun with NATO, as the U.S. has accounted for nearly 70% of that group's defense spending in the past. Consequently, President Trump has made it clear that American assistance will begin to decrease by 2021 while European funds must increase (BBC, 2020). It's logical to conclude that reductions to U.N. spending, foreign aid, and even overseas troop deployment are likely to decrease especially to nations who have displayed hostile intentions to the U.S.
Foreign policy can also become a critical element in stability at home. Historically, radical statist revolutionaries have used it to help create chaos and insurrection on the home front. Remember the Soviet October Revolution. A noninterventionist policy as pursued by Trump takes away that weapon in favor of capitalism with the economic and political security it brings. As Rand noted, "[l]et those who are actually concerned with peace note that capitalism gave mankind the longest period of peace in history — from the end of the Napoleonic Wars of 1815 to the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914" (Rand, p. 34). It's no accident that during this time, the Industrial Revolution changed men's lives forever, bringing historically unparalleled levels of wealth to the common man while also protecting him against warfare abroad. The free market curtailed the power of the government, ignited an economic explosion, and generally secured the peace at least internationally. Peaceful foreign policy that emphasizes economic trade as pursued by Trump may be the best method for securing a Pax Americana in the 21st century and avoids the foreign policy disasters of the 20th.
Finally, there is the link between foreign policy and debt. The U.S. currently faces a 27-trillion-dollar debt crisis on top of a bloated welfare state with unsustainable commitments to Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. Given the high levels of unfunded liabilities of the latter, which may in fact range from 46 to over 200 trillion dollars, most agree that at some point, steep cuts in defense and other domestic programs will have to take place just to keep these nefarious programs afloat (Mauldin, 2017). Unfortunately, America must pay the piper for its past extravagance in domestic spending and reliance upon a welfare state at the cost of making foreign policy decisions that it likely doesn't want to make.
Isaacson, Walter, and Evan Thomas. The Wise Men: Six Friends and The World They Made. Simon & Schuster, 1986.
Mauldin, John. Your Pension is a Lie: There's $210 Trillion of Liabilities that our Government Can't Fulfill. Forbes, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnmauldin/2017/10/10/your-pension-is-a-lie-theres-210-trillion-of-liabilities-our-government-cant-fulfill/#61f63c4a65b1.
News, BBC. Trump: What does the US contribute to NATO in Europe? BBC, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-44717074.
Rand, Ayn. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal: The Roots of War. Signet, 1967.
Shaw, Adam. Trump picks up another Nobel Peace Prize nomination from Europe after diplomatic victories. Fox News, 2020. Fox News, https://www.foxnews.com/politics/trump-nobel-peace-prize-europe-diplomatic.