For 70 years, America's role in the world has been broadly agreed upon. It was characterized by global leadership, significant engagement throughout the world and an open international order. We favored transparency, honest governance and close links with other nations.
We valued and supported alliances that we saw as beneficial to ourselves and our friends. We promoted the values of the American people: freedom, democracy and human rights. We used persuasion and diplomacy to foster a secure, inclusive and generous world. We supported free trade and opposed totalitarianism.
We didn't always live up to our ideals. And there were policy differences, of course, from time to time and between Republicans and Democrats. But the differences were not extreme. From one administration to another, there was a broad, mainstream foreign policy for decades.
Now President Donald Trump is taking the country in a very different direction, one that could have a profound impact on our standing in the world and our relationships with others, depending on how it plays out.
His theme is America First, an approach that would reduce American involvement in the world and let every nation act for itself. He is skeptical of alliances. He wants us to be less engaged with others and less supportive of global institutions. He is more inclined to act unilaterally.
Trump talks about making America strong again, which suggests it is not strong now. Compared to previous U.S. presidents, he is less concerned with promoting freedom, democracy and human rights. His economic ideas lean toward protectionism.
While he expresses admiration for Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, the autocratic leaders of Russia and China, he keeps our allies at arm's length.
He threatens to jettison the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, in which the U.S. and five allied nations persuaded Iran to delay its quest for nuclear weapons. He rejects big trade deals, which American leaders have long favored. He withdrew the U.S. from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and from the Paris Agreement on climate change, which has been signed by 195 nations. These actions undermine America's credibility and reliability as a negotiating partner.
He has sown doubts about our commitment to NATO and suggested he would withhold U.S. security guarantees from our NATO partners until they pay their fair share to support the alliance. He expresses doubt about building a world order. He portrays refugees as a threat and opposes a pathway to citizenship for immigrants.
In his rhetoric -- if not always in his actions -- there are major departures from seven decades of American foreign policy and leadership in the world. These departures make our allies feel the United States is less of a world leader. German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it bluntly: "The era in which we (Europeans) could fully rely on others is over."
Trump has not been too worried about consistency. He talked about destroying North Korea as a nation with "fire and fury like the world has never seen"; and he criticized his secretary of state for suggesting we would negotiate with North Korea. At the same time, Trump has said he is willing to meet personally with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He wants Asia to join with the United States to confront the North Korean nuclear threat, but he wants to go it alone on trade.
The foreign policy differences between Trump and his presidential predecessors are stark. But those who, like myself, have supported a traditional approach need to be open to his criticisms. Obviously we haven't done everything right in the past 70 years. Some of Trump's ideas, including his advocacy for restricting immigration and getting our allies to pay more for mutual defense, are quite popular with much of the American public.
While I have grave doubts about many of the president's positions, I think his foreign policy views should prompt serious and thorough discussion about the successes and failures and the costs and benefits of our traditional foreign policy.
We should welcome a comprehensive examination of the U.S. role in the world, even if we don't all agree on the findings. Robust debate is the American way, and this is a debate worth having.