Back in the 1950s, when the institutions were still new and shaky, I’m sure many people feared the Western alliance might never take off. Perhaps in the 1970s, the era of the Red Brigades and Vietnam, many more feared that the West would not survive. But in my adult life, I cannot remember a moment as dramatic as this: Right now, we are two or three bad elections away from the end of NATO, the end of the European Union, and maybe the end of the liberal world order as we know it.
I share that feeling. “Not only is Trump uninterested in America’s alliances,” she writes,
he would be incapable of sustaining them. In practice, both military and economic unions require not the skills of a shady property magnate who “makes deals” but boring negotiations, unsatisfying compromises, and, sometimes, the sacrifice of one’s own national preferences for the greater good. In an era when foreign policy debate has in most Western countries disappeared altogether, replaced by the reality TV of political entertainment, all of these things are much harder to explain and justify to a public that isn’t remotely interested.
To which the standard answer is blah, blah, blah, patronizing coastal Ivy-educated elite, what has the West done for us lately.
Western unity, nuclear deterrence, and standing armies gave us more than half a century of political stability. Shared economic space helped bring prosperity and freedom to Europe and North America alike. But these are things that we all take for granted, until they are gone.
But none of these arguments work, do they. No matter what, all people hear is blah, blah, blah, patronizing coastal Ivy-educated elites — what have the Romans ever given us in return? Yeah, yeah, yeah, besides half a century of political stability, prosperity and freedom …
Foreign Policy is beginning to reckon with this idea, too: Obama wasn’t an aberration; he was a faithful expression of the American desire to have nothing to do with the world:
President Barack Obama, who as a candidate spoke of the imperative to help shore up weak and failing states, has repeatedly had to promise an impatient American public that he will do his nation-building at home rather than abroad. If he drew down forces too deeply in both Iraq and Afghanistan, he did so in part because he knew the public wanted out. Drones, yes; soldiers, no. A President Hillary Clinton might face an even surlier mood than Obama has.
I don’t think foreign policy elites have fully absorbed this collective attitude.
I don’t either. But nor do I think the American electorate has fully absorbed what it’s risking.
It probably won’t happen. Trump won’t be elected. But the signal his campaign has given the world has been received already: Even Americans don’t believe in the liberal world order as we know it. I don’t think Hillary’s capable, intellectually or as a politician, of dealing with the fallout she’ll face after eight years of her own foreign policy incompetence. The American electorate has already told the world in no uncertain terms, “Go to hell.” She’ll be presiding over a near-ungovernable country.
Surely there’s got to be a way out of this?