The Trump administration doesn’t yet have a foreign policy, but it does have an instinct—that good fences make good neighbors. But why? As Robert Frost’s narrator points out, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offense.” Lots of things, it turns out, don’t love walls—among them the global economy, U.S. alliances, international institutions, and transnational networks of all kinds.
So the debate over wall building becomes a proxy for debates about Washington’s proper approach to the world at large. The global populist revival has reminded everyone that opening up one’s country to globalization carries costs as well as benefits and that both are distributed unequally. But closing one’s country off from globalization carries costs, too—and far heavier ones than populists generally appreciate.
Globalization involves endless flows of goods, services, money, and people. When bad actors slip through the cracks, the results can be terrible. But terrible results can come from interrupting good flows, as well. For the United States to throw sand in the gears of the global economy and the liberal international order more gen erally would be disastrous, and one can only hope that the Trump adminis tration manages to control its more parochial instincts.
In practice, of course, open and closed are not binary choices but opposite ends of a spectrum, and the interesting policy questions lie some where in between. What the United States needs is not some giant honking wall but a strategy for engaging with the world beyond its borders intelligently, giving due weight to both its interests and its responsibilities.
Our lead package this issue focuses on crucial policy choices that the administration is mulling, from foreign policy and national security to health care and tax reform. The details matter, but so does the general direction. As Richard Haass argues in his essay, “American patriotism can be defined and operation alized in ways compatible with responsible global leadership. And figuring out how to do that from here on in is the Trump administration’s central challenge.”
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