George Orwell once quipped, referring to a conspiracy theory that American soldiers had been brought to England in World War II to put down a working-class rebellion rather than to fight Nazi Germany: “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”
His insight is certainly valid in connection to the “Never Trump” intellectuals today.
Case in point is a recent article published by Never Trump super-intellectual, the Brookings Institute’s Robert Kagan.
Earlier in the summer, Kagan wrote an oped in the Washington Post where he laid out his best case against President Donald Trump’s foreign policy.
Not to put too sharp a point on things: It was unhinged.
Titled “Trump’s America does not care,” Kagan made a contention that was wrong and then made two additional assertions which were also wrong — and which, even worse, contradicted one another.
Kagan’s basic contention was that Trump has transformed the United States from a moral actor and a great power into an immoral actor and a “rogue power.”
Trump did this, apparently, by committing the unpardonable offense of basing his foreign policy on U.S. interests.
It used to be that outside the confines of a marginal groups of Communists and their fellow travelers, no one in Washington would ever argue that it is immoral for the United States to use its foreign policy to advance its national interests.
But at a time when Trump Derangement Syndrome spreads like the plague through intellectual circles, Kagan wrote that under Trump, the “United States [behaves like a] rogue superpower, neither isolationist nor internationalist, neither withdrawing nor in decline, but active, powerful and entirely out for itself.”
And what has happened as a result of Trump acting entirely on behalf of his nation? How has Trump’s America First foreign policy transformed America into a rogue superpower?
For the answer, we come to Kagan’s two further assertions.
First, Kagan said that it is immoral for the U.S. to use foreign policy to advance its national interests as Trump is doing.
Second, Kagan wrote that the U.S. is only allowed to advance its national interests by adhering to the post-World War II alliance system the U.S. constructed 70 years ago (because it advanced the U.S’s primary national interest at the time of defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War).
Before considering the veracity of these assertions, it is important to mention that they cannot both be true. Obviously, if it is immoral for the U.S. to use its foreign policy as a means to advance its national interest, then it is immoral for the U.S. to advance its interests through the Cold War alliance system.
As it works out, neither of Kagan’s assumptions is true.
By Kagan’s telling, until Trump came along, everyone in U.S. foreign policy circles was of either one of two opinions. On the one hand were those who believed that the U.S. was and should “continue as primary defender of the international order it created after World War II.”
On the other hand, there were those who wanted the U.S. to “pull back from overseas commitments, shed global responsibilities, turn inward and begin transitioning to a post-American world.”
The first approach, which views the U.S. as the savior of human freedom worldwide, is the neoconservative approach. The latter approach is former President Barack Obama’s approach.
And whereas Kagan and his comrades in the neoconservative section of the Never Trump choir assumed, as Kagan notes, that Trump would follow Obama’s approach, Trump stumped them when he came up with a totally new concept of foreign policy based on the revolutionary idea that U.S. power should be used to advance U.S. interests and even dared to argue that the world is better off when the U.S. is better off.
The fact that Trump is accomplishing real things that Kagan and his comrades used to support – like moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, forging a new alliance with U.S. Arab allies directed against Iran, and closing advantageous trade deals with Europe – merely causes Kagan to double down in his rejection of Trump’s foreign policy.
While inexplicable in the real world, Kagan’s response to Trump’s successes is sensible in the closed intellectual universe he and his fellow Never Trump intellectuals have inhabited since the Republican National Convention two years ago.
Kagan contends that until Trump came along, “the United States was, up to a point, willing to play Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians’ ropes, in the interest of reassuring and binding the democratic community together.”
Who, in Kagan’s view, was the U.S. willing to be exploited by as a “Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians ropes,” in order to reassure? What was America supposed to reassure them about?
Were the Italians concerned that the Americans were about to seize the Coliseum and require them to eat Wonder Bread?
Or did the French worry the U.S. would invade Normandy and sell nuns and orphans as sex slaves and child soldiers?
In other words, upon the briefest reflection, the U.S. never posed a danger to its allies. It didn’t need to accept restraints on its actions in order to reassure them that it wouldn’t commit atrocities.
But wait, there’s more.
Kagan wrote, “Europeans and others may have found the United States selfish and overbearing, too eager to use force and too willing to pursue its goals unilaterally, but even President George W. Bush’s America cared about them, if only because Americans had learned through painful experience that they had no choice but to care.”
Why would it be America’s fault if the Europeans and others “found the United States selfish and overbearing, too eager to use force and too willing to pursue its goals unilaterally”?
As Kagan noted elsewhere in his article, America paid Europe’s defense bill and protected it from the Soviet Union for five decades while allowing the Europeans to take advantage of America in lopsided trade deals, and to undermine America’s foreign initiatives across a spectrum of issues and areas. And the U.S. continued paying Europe’s defense bill and allowing the Europeans to take advantage of it on trade for 27 years after the Soviet Union disappeared.
If anything, by his own description of the U.S. as “Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians ropes,” the U.S had a perfect right to find the Europeans selfish and overbearing, too eager to criticize and too willing to pursue their goals in contravention of U.S. policies.
As for America’s alleged fear that if it stopped allowing Europeans to exploit it they would start World War III, if that fear is indeed what drove U.S. administrations from 1945 until 2017, then Trump’s abandonment of that view in 2017 was long overdue.
The postwar international system was predicated on the Soviet Union’s emergence as the U.S.’s primary foe. The Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991. And at least since 2001, the U.S.’s primary foe has been a loose- and fast-changing alliance of jihadist governments and terror groups that operate globally.
Why an alliance system built around fighting an enemy that no longer exists is the best system to use to fight a completely different enemy is anyone’s guess. Regardless, the notion that it is immoral to downgrade or sideline an alliance system built on fighting an enemy that has been gone for 27 years is simply wrong.
It is too early to tell if Trump’s America First foreign policy will succeed. But it is progressing in a promising trajectory. Indeed, if Trump’s policies in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America and Europe are even partially successful, he will be remembered as the most significant – and successful – U.S. statesman in the post-Cold War era.
Perhaps the best sign that Trump’s foreign policy is succeeding – or at least promising — is the frothing-at-the-mouth quality of the critiques his foreign policy attracts. Attacks like Kagan’s show that Trump’s America First foreign policy is the only game today in Washington.
And, given the dismal intellectual and practical failures of the foreign policies of both the George W. Bush administration and the Obama administration, it is a good thing for America and for global security that Trump has the field to himself.