New isolationism or a strategy for democratic renewal?


A joke in Milan Kundera’s novel “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” goes like this, The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens writes: “In Wenceslaus Square, in Prague, a guy is throwing up. Another guy comes up to him, pulls a long face, shakes his head and says: ‘I know just what you mean.’ ”

But Stephens is referring to the upsurge of isolationism, specifically Donald Trump’s foreign-policy speech, built around the theme of “America First.”

While America’s earlier bouts of “inwardism” have been short, as after WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, this time, the global power game is up for grabs. Josef Joffe writes for The Tablet. Ambitious players like China, Russia, and Iran, not to speak of ISIS, have never seen a vacuum they did not like. As a result, the future that the new isolationism promises us is likely to be nasty, brutish, and long.

In his foreign policy speech last week, Trump essentially dismissed the idea that morality should play any part in American foreign policy, notes one analyst:

He criticized “the dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western democracy.” And not once in his speech did he mention the words “freedom,” “liberty,” “tyranny” or “rule of law” – something that might well be a first for a Republican presidential candidate in the post-Reagan era.

Trump also described his foreign policy as “America First,” which was the slogan of Charles Lindbergh and the isolationists of the 1930s, writes Brookings analyst Thomas Wright:

Isolationists were never opposed to acting when America was directly threatened but they were opposed to proactively shaping the world so it provided a healthy environment in which the country to flourish and prosper. Trump could not be clearer that he agrees with the isolationists on this and wants to revert back to an age where the United States does much, much less in the world than it does now. He opposes democracy promotion, multilateralism, security guarantees, and, implicitly, keeping the global commons open for use by all nations.

Where Trump broke with some prominent members of the Republican foreign-policy establishment is over the George W. Bush Administration’s experiment with democracy promotion in the Middle East, The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza notes:

“After the Cold War, our foreign policy veered badly off course,” Trump said. “It all began with the dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western democracy.” This is nothing new for conservatives, most of whom, especially at the grass roots and on the populist right, have long since soured on Bush’s naïveté about what the United States could accomplish in Iraq and elsewhere.

Please join the Foreign Policy Association and the New York Democracy Forum in welcoming Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment of Democracy, who will deliver the annual John B. Hurford Memorial Lecture titled, “A Strategy for Democratic Renewal.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2016. A small reception will begin at 5:30 pm and the lecture will run from 6:00-7:00 pm. RSVP


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