Decline of U.S. global leadership is not what Americans want

Experts on foreign policy seem to have reached a broad agreement that America’s influence in the world is declining. There is remarkable consensus in this belief among pundits, editorial writers, scholars and authors, the experts who follow international events closely and have supported the traditional, mainstream American foreign policy for decades.

Even many of our allies have joined in criticizing America’s current foreign policy. They believe that the U.S. had, in the past, deep influence over events and institutions around the world, and that that influence has waned.

These experts and allies recognize the U.S. has not always lived up to its ideals, but they believe America’s foreign engagement has been beneficial overall. They think we have played a constructive and generous role in shaping the world order – that we led the way in building institutions that set the rules of the road for the international community.

They worry that President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy means the U.S. is looking out only for itself, destroying understanding, relationships and agreements, hollowing out the State Department and abandoning its promotion of human rights and democracy.

They point to our withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Paris accord on climate along with our rejection of decades of U.S. policy and international consensus by deciding to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. They see the U.S. no longer playing a key role in the Middle East peace process.

They worry that, with Trump wavering on support for NATO’s Article 5 commitment that members must come to the defense of allies, the greatest military alliance in the history of the world is diminished by our indifference.

They are alarmed by the president’s dust-ups with leaders of allied nations, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Germany and South Korea, and by his reluctance to challenge Russian interference in our election process and his mysterious support of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They disagree with Trump’s dismissal of our opening to Cuba. Most recently, many were deeply offended by his reported use of a vulgar term to refer to African countries and Haiti. They believe America’s credibility is damaged by threats to use force to “totally destroy” North Korea and our effectiveness is weakened by Trump’s attacks on the CIA, the FBI and other national security institutions.

In short, they see America as a nation abdicating its global responsibility and losing its moral example.

From my point of view, these experts make a strong and persuasive case. The president, of course, does not always follow through on his words, so leaders around the world are confused about whether to take Trump’s rhetoric as statements of policy or to ignore it.

Here at home, an important question is this: Is the foreign policy that President Trump is outlining and advancing what we really want as Americans? I do not think it is.

I’ve spent a good part of my public life talking to American groups about our foreign policy. My impression is that Americans take pride in our global leadership role. They want our country to be front and center in world affairs. They know the world has a lot of problems, and they believe America plays a constructive role in addressing them.

The experts make the case that, given the state of the world today, America’s leadership is urgently needed.

They see that China is positioning itself as a leader on climate change, that Russia is taking on a bigger role in the conflict in Syria and that NATO members look increasingly to Germany and France for leadership. They acknowledge we need help but see that no other power is willing and able to play the world leadership role that the United States has played. By withdrawing from our traditional role, they believe, we are creating a void in international affairs.

My hope is that 2018 will bring a turning point for American foreign policy, a move away from the performance of Trump’s first year in office and toward respect for the American people’s view of our role in the world.

The debate will go forward over the uses and limits of American power to shape the world. Our leadership is not flawless, and we have made a few mistakes along the way. But the world is a better place because of American foreign policy leadership.

So, I agree with the consensus among the experts that American leadership is needed now and for the future. The experts, more than the president, are voicing the role the American people want to play in the world.

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