Robert Galbraith / Reuters A coal miner prior to the start of his afternoon shift at a coal mine near Gilbert, West Virginia, May 22, 2014.

How Foreign Policy Came to Divide America

And What It Means for U.S. Leadership

It has been 15 years since the historian Robert Kagan proclaimed that Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus. In his view, the two faced irreconcilable differences, with Americans favoring power and coercion and Europeans dedicated to diplomacy and law. One of the reasons the characterization went viral—if there was such a concept in 2002—is that it coincided with the run-up to the Iraq war, which seemed to reinforce his thesis that “Europeans and Americans no longer share a common view of the world.” 

On first glance, U.S. President Donald Trump’s behavior since assuming office only seems to confirm such a view. He has withdrawn from the Paris agreement on climate change; shown an unwillingness to reaffirm Article 5, the collective-defense provision of NATO; and declared Germany “very bad” when it comes to trade. But on closer inspection, it might be more accurate to say that in both Europe and the United States, the nonmetropolitan masses are from Mars and the metropolitan elites are from Venus.

Gather members of the Washington foreign policy establishment and the London metropolitan elite in a room, and there is almost no daylight between any of their policy views. Convene any group of transatlantic elites in Bratislava, Munich, or New York, and there will be a unanimous show of disgust with Trump’s rupturing of the liberal international order—a set of rule-based institutions focused on open markets, collective security, and democracy—that the United States helped establish after World War II. It is an order that favors the perpetuation of American power in the long term. Foreign policy elites in the United States are commmitted to this order and overwhelmingly express support for free trade, the United Nations, and an active role for the United States in the world and in support of its allies, even if that means using military force. But these very issues have created major divisions between the Washington elites and the large swaths of the American population

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