On September 25th, President Trump gave a speech in front of the UN General Assembly through which he advocated sovereignty and the promotion of national interests above global cooperation. Trump expressed his unequivocal disapproval for the international political sphere, bluntly stating that the United States fails in it's “ideology of globalism.” The President asked that other nations respect American sovereignty as he charts a foreign policy course that rejects any international agreements or institutions that he believes are “unfair” to our country.
Though the speech elicited a tidal wave of criticism from the American public, the focus of President Trump’s speech did not surprise me. Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump’s rhetoric was overwhelmingly nationalistic and made clear his disdain for America’s traditional role in the world. As a candidate, he consistently declared that the United States was being “ripped off” by countries around the world, spending too much for the defense of other nations, and signing unbalanced international agreements; particularly NAFTA and the Iran Nuclear Deal. In short, Trump promoted an “America First” foreign policy, and since being in office, that is what he has delivered.
One of Trump’s first foreign policy moves as President demonstrated his disregard for international institutions by withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, justifying this decision by claiming the agreement would damage US jobs. However, given that the agreement made emission reduction targets voluntary for all participating nations, I recognize Trump’s move to withdraw from the agreement as largely symbolic. Nonetheless, such moves to weaken the United States’ participation in international institutions could be dangerous to the future of America’s place in the global order.
Trump’s “America First” policy fails to recognize the history and importance of multilateralism. After World War II, President Truman worked swiftly and efficiently to rebuild and reshape a world in shambles. He fought to establish the United Nations, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund to handle global economic and political issues in the current moment and for decades to come. Additionally, Truman lobbied to pass the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan, both which provided foreign countries with funds to rebuild their nations in an effort to resist communism and promote democracy. The result of this unprecedented period of diplomacy was the liberal international world order, a structure of global cooperation which has persisted into the modern era.
Since our country's founding, the United States has been a leader in maintaining this world order. With a broad scope of foreign responsibilities, American leaders have been able to shape international agreements and institutions to further the interests of the United States abroad. As such, Truman and other presidents since him have accepted the costs America must incur for the reward of power and influence which accompanies leading the international political world.
Now, under President Trump, I believe America’s status as the single world superpower is being threatened. Through his rhetoric and policy, Trump has narrowed the scope of United States’ foreign initiatives, shifting heavily towards unilateralism. He has made clear that the top priority in relation to foreign affairs is the promotion of American economic interests. He thus views many international institutions and agreements as financial burdens rather than assets, failing to recognize the power America gains to shape foreign agreements in our best interests.
Trump also fails to realize, or perhaps chooses to ignore, the vacuum that is created when the United States withdraws from the world stage. A recent Gallup poll of 134 countries revealed a drastic decrease in approval for the United States’ role in the world, from 48% under Obama to a record-low 30% after Trump’s first year in office. This decrease in confidence breaks down the cohesion of western democracies and allows for countries such as Russia and China to take more prominent leadership rolls. Gaining a stronger standing as superpowers provides these countries with the power to shape international institutions in their interests- interests which vary drastically from those of the United States.
President Trump, therefore, is doing a disservice to the strength of the United States which he so often touts. As I see it, America is a stronger, and better, nation when we exercise our full potential as the unipolar world leader to promote global cooperation and advancement.
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