In the end, 2018 was not the year of U.S. foreign policy apocalypse. Normally, this would not be a cause for celebration. But given the anxiety about President Donald Trump and what his administration might do—pull out of NATO, start a war with Iran or North Korea—it was something to be grateful for. In fact, Trump’s first two years in office have been marked by a surprising degree of stability. The president has proved himself to be what many critics have long accused him of being: belligerent, bullying, impatient, irresponsible, intellectually lazy, short-tempered, and self-obsessed. Remarkably, however, those shortcomings have not yet translated into obvious disaster.
But the surface-level calm of the last two years should not distract from a building crisis of U.S. foreign policy, of which Trump is both a symptom and a cause. The president has outlined a deeply misguided foreign policy vision that is distrustful of U.S. allies, scornful of international institutions, and indifferent, if not downright hostile, to the liberal international order that the United States has sustained for nearly eight decades. The real tragedy, however, is not that the president has brought this flawed vision to the fore; it is that his is merely one mangled interpretation of what is rapidly emerging as a new consensus on the left and the right: that the United States should accept a more modest role in world affairs.
One can and should hope that the forces that have constrained Trump so far will continue to limit the damage of his remaining years in office, but the push for a U.S. retreat from the world did not begin with the president and will not end with his exit. The crisis of the United States’ post–Cold War foreign policy has been a long time in the making, and it will last beyond Trump.
Although the worst has not come to pass, the president’s foreign policy has been curious and in some ways
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