How can the rules-based international order survive the Trump presidency, despite his constant attempts to upend it?
Two foreign policy blue-bloods propose that the U.S.’s traditional allies collectively step in as the defenders and promoters of democracy, freedom, free trade and human rights across the globe — until Trump is gone.
Ivo H. Daalder, who served as Barack Obama’s ambassador to NATO, and James M. Lindsay, a senior vice president of the Council on Foreign Relations, are out with a new book: The Empty Throne: America’s Abdication of Global Leadership. They outline their plan for an interregnum in a companion piece entitled The Committee to Save the World Order published by Foreign Affairs.
The authors express despair over Trump’s assault on the agreements and protocols developed to “prevent the dog-eat-dog geopolitical competition that triggered World War II.” But they waste no time hoping for Trump to come around.
Instead, they propose that the “Committee to Save the World Order” take the U.S.’s traditional seat (throne) for the interim and keep it warm while the regular occupant is off carousing with dictators and launching trade wars. The group, which the authors nickname the “G-9”, would consist of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the EU in Europe; Australia, Japan, and South Korea in Asia; and Canada in North America.
This “G-9” should have two imperatives: maintain the rules-based order in the hope that Trump’s successor will reclaim Washington’s global leadership role and lay the groundwork to make it politically possible for that to happen. This holding action will require every member of the G-9 to take on greater global responsibilities. They all are capable of doing so; they need only summon the will.
As confirmed globalists, Daalder and Lindsay unsurprisingly put way more emphasis on free trade and military build-ups – without acknowledging any downsides — than they do on democracy and human rights. They cheer on multilateral trade agreements that simply carve out the U.S. for now. And they encourage military collaboration accompanied by sizable increases in defense budgets.
Obama left Trump a note on Inauguration Day, in which he wrote: “It’s up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend.”
But Daalder and Lindsay conclude that Trump “is not looking to reinvigorate the rules-based order by leading friends and allies in a common cause. They are the foes he wants to beat.”
And the authors declare that allies’ attempt to “placate Trump” have failed, so they should move on. “[E]fforts to compromise haven’t worked, and they aren’t likely to for one simple reason: what U.S. allies want to save, Trump wants to upend.”
In a realization that may apply across the board, Daalder and Lindsay acknowledge that Trump may have changed the political dynamics of foreign policy forever. They particularly worry that Trump has successfully branded the U.S.’s traditional allies as “ungrateful”. As a result, “his successor may pay a political price for trying to reclaim a global leadership role for the United States” – or may not even try.
Nevertheless, their hope remains that everything will go back to normal once Trump is gone. Others might hope for bolder reforms in the wake of Trump that could actually make things better than normal: that the negative effects of border-neutral capital flows on workers could be tempered or mitigated; that massive military budgets could be redirected toward more productive uses; or that the U.S. could take a more strongly moral but more humble — and less throney — approach as global leader.
The question here, as elsewhere, comes down to whether simply waiting Trump out is enough — or whether a powerful and aggressive popular movement to reverse Trumpism and improve the status quo ante is necessary to prevent elements of Trumpism from becoming the new normal.