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Trump’s Threat to the Liberal World Order

The mantra of the liberal media, particularly the intellectual and scholarly media (New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Fareed Zakaria) and particularly when articles are written by former government officials or diplomats, claim that president Donald Trump is destroying the “liberal world order,” crafted and shaped by the United States for the last 70 years. Trump has broken trade alliances, disputed the principle of free trade in favor of aggressive tariffs, failed to assert demands for human rights in other nations that violate them, and praised dictatorial leaders, such as Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who disregard human rights in their own countries. He is scaring our allies in South Korea and Japan by stopping military exercises designed to deter North Korea and voiced support for eventually removing troops from South Korea. In the past, he has criticized the usefulness of NATO, and threatened to reduce American involvement if European countries didn’t pay more for their own defense.

All of the complaints against President Trump are true. The destruction of free trade between the U.S. and Canada and Mexico, the development of a trade war with those countries as well as Europe and China, the uncritical support of Erdoğan, are all egregious foreign policy moves in my opinion. Trump’s willingness to talk to Putin and Kim, his reduction of the U.S. military presence as it pertains to North Korea in an effort to make peace, and his chiding of European countries for taking a “free ride” on the coattails of the American Defense budget when it comes to their own defense are perfectly legitimate positions, as far as I am concerned, even if they do violate some people’s view of what the American-maintained liberal world order should look like. The jeopardizing of our alliances and the initiation of a trade war between the U.S. and nearly all of our trading partners, as well as Trump’s professed admiration for dictators, as well as the disorganized and amateurish, on-the-fly nature of his foreign policy are aspects of the Trump presidency that I see as downright dangerous.

But what about his undermining of the liberal world order? The idea behind such an order is that America, relatively untouched by WWII, at first the only nuclear power, and left with a military presence in Europe and Japan, as well as the resources to rebuild parts of war-torn Europe and support the rebirth of Japan, became the protector of Western values. America pursued a deliberate policy of using its military and economic might to protect and foster democracies, democratic institutions and the maintenance of capitalism and free trade as the economic system that dominated the world. Under the umbrella of this policy, nuclear weapons were never again used, democracies didn’t go to war against each other and the world’s economy grew at an impressive rate while underdeveloped regions of the world slowly worked their way up from destitution.

The liberal world order is a nice picture, but the reality is a little different. The association of the theme of liberal democracy with the idea of a world order created the Cold War mentality, in which the danger of Communism in any form became America’s first priority for virtually the entire last half of the 20thcentury. Using the idea that any defense against Communism or its twin, Socialism, was a defense of  “freedom,” the U.S., using covert operations and economic pressure, toppled several democratically elected governments in South and Central America because they endorsed leftist ideologies. This pattern has persisted, at least in terms of whom we support and our economic policies, and probably our covert intelligence operations, right up to the present in places such as Venezuela and Honduras. The strait-laced blindness of American anti-Communism forced Cuba to align with Russia, then become a purveyor of its system to other South and Central American countries as well as Africa, while the U.S. stood by and failed to reach out to a regime that could have been our friend and was no more dictatorial than regimes we supported in El Salvador or Chile.

America’s protection of human rights failed miserably in our lack of criticism or economic penalties for countries such as South Africa during its Apartheid era or Israel in its treatment of Palestinians, and even America's support for Saddam Hussein against Iran in their war, because these countries were considered vital to America either economically or strategically. In this century, we have continued this practice with regard to Saudi Arabia and the Ukraine, and, of course, Israel.

The upwardly rising economic progress of the world, in terms of its march toward an ever higher Global World Product (GWP), has for decades concealed the widening gap between the economic elites of the world and the rest of humanity, which appears most stark in the most successful capitalistic countries, such as the U.S. Thomas Piketty has chronicled the rise of income inequality as a consequence of the capitalistic system and the lack of countervailing forces to distribute wealth more equitably. Meanwhile, China, for some reason out of the field of vision of Western economists for decades, has developed an alternative model that fuses partial capitalism with tight undemocratic government control over both its economy and its people and vaulted the Chinese economy into competition with the U.S. and exported its model to much of the developing world.

While the liberal world order was a nice idea, and may have been necessary when Stalin threatened Europe after WWII (though it actually did little to stop him), and it produced a economically recovered Western Europe that was probably instrumental in convincing Mikhael Gorbachev to dismantle the Soviet Union and turn toward greater freedom and capitalism, it was also a massive hypocrisy concealing the rise of Western corporate power, and supporting dictatorships when it was useful to do so, neglecting, except as sources of raw materials and a market for goods, Africa and other developing regions (regions that are now falling under the economic influence of China), and pushing us into wars such as Vietnam and Iraq. 

Is the liberal world order worth preserving? I’m not sure that it is capable of being preserved in the light of China’s ascendance. If its ideals always determined America’s actions, it might be a useful model, but the basic idea that one country’s military might and wealth are the source of freedom and prosperity for the rest of the world seems a flawed one when one steps back and thinks about it. I can’t believe that Donald Trump’s model of an economically belligerent superpower is a viable alternative, and in fact it seems to be based upon the same flawed idea that America is exceptional enough to determine the way the rest of the world works. Trump’s vision is more pragmatic and less ideological, but equally oriented around power as the determiner of right.

I don’t know the answer as to what alternative we should seek, except that it should involve more American humility, more genuine concern for human welfare, such as the welfare of refugees and immigrants, greater equality of wealth, more concern for the environment and protection against global warming, less threat of war, and more effort by the developed world to help the developing world without concern about whether they become ours or China’s satellite country. I don’t have a model for this, but I think I’ve heard enough about the demise of the liberal world order. It may have been time for its descent, Trump or no Trump, and we should stop paying obeisance to it.

Reader Comments (4)

In hind sight it may well be that liberalism has always been neo-liberalism, that our "free press" has always been captive to it's elite owners and our political class always enslaved to money over people.

Likewise our conservative brethren may similarlyhave been betrayed by a neo-conservatism that valued property over people. Taking over giving. Slavery over freedom..

June 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

The sources you've listed are not remotely scholarly. They are partisan and biased, no matter what claims they make to the contrary.

Free trade has not been destroyed. The sky is not falling. North American trade is being counterbalanced to be more fair going forward. Enough with the alarmism, please.

President Trump has not praised dictators for being dictatorial. He may have expressed an understanding that some are strong advocates for their people or even their principles, however misguided those principles may be. In every negotiation, in every peace effort, there must be an establishment of common ground in order to move forward. Better for the president to be criticized for his efforts at making peace as opposed to his efforts at making war. President Obama's international kowtowing was far more dangerous to our security than President Trump's impulsive (but typically sound) foreign policy efforts. We've had plenty of American humility in the recent past. We need to walk assuredly with big shoulders as we've traditionally done. That's how you set a strong tone for people to admire and follow. Success breeds success and a strong, confident democracy can breed the same. Someone has to at least try to determine what is "right." I'll put the American experiment before any other governmental type.

President Trump is the first President in decades to actually protect Western values instead of promoting destructive globalist policies. President Trump needs to keep promoting traditional liberal ideals throughout the world while continuing to work against radical socialist, communist and fascist governments on the left and on the right that promote either equal outcomes or racial superiority. Each ideology has proven equally dangerous.

The only way to offer a possible equality of wealth is to provide equal opportunity to all citizens to create wealth. Fortunately, that's exactly what we have in this country. Anybody, and I do mean anybody, with the requisite skill, talent, drive or inventiveness can basically become as wealthy as they want to be. Look at how many great businesses, products and services began in very meager conditions. It's phenomenal. To deny this fact is to deny the countless success stories that prove the verity of what equal opportunity provides. If anyone is under the impression that the government should be in the business of stealing wealth from talented people and giving it to less talented people, then that is a horrific thing and will assuredly deincentivize our most creative and competent people from pursuing the elements of true human progression. I don't want the government to seize and redistribute the wealth of Elon Musk and Oprah Winfrey to me or anyone else. They're welcome to keep the incredible wealth that has resulted from the applied efforts of their remarkable talents.

And as it usually works with most radicals, all that's offered is a suggestion to tear down the status quo Liberal World Order and replace it with something that can't even begin to define.

June 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

Interestingly, Foreign Affairs, the scholarly journal to which I attribute the claim that Trump is destroying the "liberal world order" just published (today, June 18, 2018) in its July/August issue, an essay by Graham Allison, titled "The Myth of the Liberal Order,"
which echoes nearly everything I've said in this essay. I've attached the url, but you may need a subscription to read the whole article

June 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Dorman

Some folks are absolutely cheering....both left and right....this from the left: https://www.blackagendareport.com/index.php/chaos-imperial-big-house

June 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

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