The Atlantic

Two Alternatives to Trump’s Global Vision

Those who don’t like the president’s worldview need to put up their own.
Source: Carlos Barria / Reuters

Perhaps without intending it, President Donald Trump is providing a valuable service to the country by forcing a debate on America’s grand strategy in the world. Trump’s United Nations General Assembly speech drew immediate attention because of the derisive laughter it aroused from some in the audience, but its significance lies in its evocation of the pre–World War II American tradition of unilateralism, with a nationalist flavor (“patriotism” instead of “globalism,” as he put it).

Although applied inconsistently, Trump’s main argument seems to be that national sovereignty is an absolute, sovereign nations make their own rules, alliances are transactional only, and values are irrelevant. Reactions to the speech were generally harsh (mine was, too). But like it or not, Trump won an election making similar arguments, and those who don’t like his worldview need to put up their own.

Happily, the past century of American foreign policy provides two tested alternatives to Trumpist unilateralism: realist internationalism rooted in alliances, and commitment to a rules-based international order that

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