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The Usurpation of U.S. Foreign Policy

How the Trump-Zelensky Call Corrodes American Power

Trump at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, September 2019 Doug Mills / The New York Times / ​Redux

Last week’s revelation that Donald Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden was explosive even by the standards of this scandal-prone administration. Had the president of the United States conditioned the restoration of military aid to Ukraine on his counterpart’s willingness to investigate a political rival—a quid pro quo that is all but explicit in the record of the Trump-Zelensky call released by the White House? Much has been made since of Trump’s demand as an abuse of presidential power. But it was also an abuse of American power—and that, in the long run, may do more lasting damage.

Power is the organizing principle of international politics. That endows the United States with an extraordinary ability to coerce others—that is, to make them follow its lead through a mix of inducements and penalties. As a result, Washington has

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