In his most recent Wall Street Journal column Walter Russell Mead warns about alienating our allies:
A normal president would be crushed under the burden; Donald Trump is still tweeting and playing golf. To some degree, the crisis enveloping the country and his presidency is his natural milieu. Theatricality has always been central to Mr. Trump’s political method. As an insurgent populist candidate, and as an incumbent who nevertheless wants to run as an outsider fighting an entrenched system, he thrives on conflict and drama.
Yet even for Mr. Trump there can be too much of a good thing. The cascading crises ricocheting across the world threaten to become so acute and so overwhelming that they upstage him. Manageable crises can make a president look big; unmanageable ones can make him look small. For Mr. Trump, looking small would be fatal.
At home, the response to the pandemic, for better or for worse, seems increasingly independent of the briefings and tweets that come from the White House. In foreign affairs, other countries seem to be paying less attention to Mr. Trump these days. An oil tanker from Iran, sent in defiance of administration warnings, docked umolested in Venezuela. North Korea is making noises about doubling down on its nuclear program. China has defied Western pressure over Hong Kong, intensified its global propaganda campaign, and ratcheted up its military pressure on the Indian border.
The international crises come at a time when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is contending with a congressional investigation of his role in the president’s decision to fire the department’s inspector general. The building is in revolt and the press hounds are baying on his trail, yet Mr. Pompeo’s biggest problem isn’t a stream of news stories that will likely get little attention beyond the Beltway. His biggest problem is the narrowing path for American diplomacy abroad.
Mr. Trump’s first wave of top national-security aides saw their task as trying to impose a conventional foreign policy on an unconventional president. Sometime during his first 18 months in office, the president decided that he no longer needed tutelage and looked for people who would implement his policy wishes, however unconventional. Mr. Pompeo, among others, took up this task, hoping to develop a policy framework around the president’s intuitions that would work both in the Oval Office and in the wider world. This isn’t an easy thing to do, as Mr. Trump’s instincts often work at cross-purposes.
Take China policy. Mr. Trump clearly believes that economic power is the key to national strength and that enhancing America’s economic vitality is necessary to maintain the country’s position in years to come. He also believes that under its current leadership China is a threat to American security and world peace. But Mr. Trump and his aides alike struggle to create a coherent policy around these ideas, in large part because the economic strategy and the China strategy, while they overlap in places, don’t ultimately mesh.
For Mr. Trump, restoring American economic strength involves fighting what he sees as a profoundly unfair global trading system and the major abuses of that system both by adversaries like China and friends like Germany, India, South Korea and Japan. Mr. Trump’s security concerns about China highlight a need for deeper relations with key allies, but his concerns about the foundations of American power lead to bitter quarrels with those allies he needs the most.
What allies? The United States has no allies. We have clients and we have trading partners, generally vendors since we import so much more than we export.
In the last century we fought two wars with Germany and one with Japan. Since those two wars Germany has ruthlessly pursued its own interests, frequently to the detriment of ours. This time around it has been using industrial might rather than military force and it has worked out better for them. But allies? Far from it. An ally would not allow its military to deteriorate as Germany’s has, it would not be supplying “dual use” technology to Iran, and it would not be cozying up to Russia. Germany’s status is better characterized as “belligerent, non-combatant”.
There are similar stories for each of the other countries he mentions.
Like it or not we’re on our own and whatever support we receive from other countries is completely contingent on military and economic might. Failure to understand that is a major deficiency.
I say all of this without defending President Trump’s ham-handed approach to foreign policy. That’s the conundrum I face. I don’t like Trump but I wouldn’t like doing the opposite of what Trump has been doing, either. As a country we need to import less and produce more of what we consume. If that requires levying tariffs against goods from China, so be it. Could what is necessary be done more gracefully than President Trump has? I like to think so. Would President Biden do what is necessary?