‘The New Republic’: Diminished America Is A ‘Positive Development For The World.’ No, It Isn’t.
On Monday, The New Republic went full New Republic. Never go Full New Republic. Jeet Heer published a long think piece deftly titled, “How Donald Trump Killed the ‘Indispensable Nation.’ Good!” The argument: Trump is making America dispensable again. Heer writes, “Trump has ushered in a new era of American hegemony, one in which the hegemon is adrift, mercurial, and utterly irresponsible…But what if a diminished America is a positive development for the world? What might countries accomplish when they can’t rely on anyone else?”
Heer acknowledges that “while the indispensability of America is often overstated, there’s no question that many countries count on the US for all sorts of reasons – military, economic, humanitarian, and otherwise.” But, says Heer, “the chaos of Trump’s foreign policy might well be an opportunity for the rest of the world…Many of today’s international problems require regional cooperation, which could easily be taken up by local alliances without America’s aid.”
Sadly, this is nonsense. The odd part about Heer’s article is that Trump probably agrees with it: he wants America to be less involved on the world stage. Trump sees America as a country that is safest and most prosperous when it removes itself from world affairs, including trade and security alliances. That’s why he’s currently clearing the path for other regional powers to develop their ambitions: America’s pull-out from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and opening of the door to China’s regional hegemony is just one sign of this; so is America’s do-nothing attitude toward the Iranian regional build-up, or Turkey’s newfound dictatorship. Heet is right that “regional cooperation” will replace American leadership, but that cooperation will be led by unfriendly nations.
President Obama set America on the path to that fate, out of a sort of perverse dislike for America’s foreign policy; President Trump is following that same path, out of isolationist tendencies and a bizarre allegiance to the Pat Buchanan-esque view of America’s role in the world.
Heet thinks that the Europeans will fill the gap left by the Americans – they’ll rebuild their military alliances, get active in the Middle East. That’s highly unlikely. It’s far more likely they will cut deals with unfriendly powers like the Russians – remember, it was American leadership in Georgia that curbed Russian territorial ambition, and the Europeans did little or nothing about Russian encroachments into Ukraine. Heet sees Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea as a good thing, but it is obviously not; when Heet says that South Korea “might find their Asian neighbors more trustworthy in dealing with North Korea than Trump’s America,” that’s laughable, considering that China is North Korea’s sponsor state.
As the example of what a positive post-American world might look like, Heet cites…Latin America. He calls America’s withdrawal of influence “benign neglect.” The citizens of Venezuela might feel differently.
In order to buy Heet’s theory, you have to buy his characterization of Chinese ambitions as benign: “no desire to radically alter global politics.” That’s sheer fantasy. You also have to buy that the Europeans will stand up to Russia.
In the end, Heet argues that a world that doesn’t have to rely on the United States will rely on itself. As the 20th century shows, that’s not just unlikely, that’s dangerous. The world needs America. And that’s why the world needs President Trump to be better than he has been thus far.