Present at the Destruction? Assessing Trump in Practice, in the New Foreign Affairs

“Covering the Trump administration is difficult because it requires disentangling three strands of its behavior: the normal, the incompetent, and the dangerous,” writes Foreign Affairs Editor Gideon Rose in his introduction to May/June issue.

“The normal aspect—the administration’s conventional Republican policies and appointments—is, broadly speaking, politics as usual. The amateur aspect—its early fumbling and bumbling—is what one finds every time power changes hands, exacerbated by an unusually inexperienced incoming team. The danger is unique,” warns Rose. 

The cover package—“Present at the Destruction?”—offers an early assessment of Donald J. Trump’s administration.

The links below bypass the paywall on ForeignAffairs.com for one month following the release date. We encourage journalists to share with their audiences.

Highlights from the cover package include:

Princeton University Professor G. John Ikenberry examines the damage Trump has already done to the liberal international order, finding that “Trump has abdicated responsibility for the world the United States built, and only time will tell the full extent of the damage he will wreak.”

Philip H. Gordon, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow and former Obama administration official, observes that “the impulsiveness, combativeness, and recklessness that characterized Donald Trump’s election campaign have survived the transition into the presidency” and argues that “there is a real risk that . . . Trump’s erratic style and confrontational policies . . . lead to open conflict—in in the most likely cases, with Iran, China, or North Korea.”

University of Michigan Professor Robert Mickey, Harvard University Professor Steven Levitsky, and University of Toronto Professor Lucan Ahmad Way note that under Trump—a president who has praised dictators and threatened to jail his campaign opponent—American democracy is not immune to backsliding, especially in an era of intense political polarization. Ominously, they warn, neither the free press, nor the bureaucracy, nor constitutional checks and balances is likely to stop the decline. “Ultimately, it may be Trump’s ability to mobilize public support—limited if his administration performs poorly, but far greater in the event of a war or a major terrorist attack—that will determine American democracy’s fate.”

Georgetown University Professor Matthew Kroenig presents a case for Trump’s foreign policy decisions, concluding that on almost every front, “Trump has begun to correct the failures of the past eight years and position the United States well for the challenges to come. With the current team and policies in place, and with greater adherence to a core strategy going forward, Trump may well, as [Henry] Kissinger predicted was possible, go ‘down in history as a very considerable president.’”

Other highlights from the issue include:

Kissinger Associates Chief Executive Officer and former Central Intelligence Agency Deputy Director Jami Miscik explains how the relationship between the White House and the intelligence community should work: “The relationship needs to be recalibrated, with policymakers gaining a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the work of intelligence professionals—a mission in which ‘alternative facts’ have no place.”

Antonio Taguba, the retired Army major general who led a 2004 army internal investigation into prisoner abuse at the U.S. detention facility in Abu Ghraib, and Scott Cooper, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, step forward to challenge Trump’s advocacy of torture as an interrogation tactic, warning that “to prevent a return to the darkest days of the so-called war on terror and the Iraq war, military officers, intelligence officials, enlisted people, and contractors must refuse to carry out any illegal orders they receive—even from the president himself.”

Dartmouth College Professor Douglas A. Irwin finds Trump’s protectionist trade policy “risks triggering a global trade war that would prove damaging to all countries” and that “lessons from the past, such as the trade disaster of the 1930s, suggest that protectionism begets protectionism. . . . History also reveals that trade barriers are easy to impose and hard to remove.”

Ruchir Sharma, chief global strategist and head of emerging markets at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, observes that while “economists and investors have placed their hopes on populists such as U.S. President Donald Trump, figuring that if they can make their countries’ economies grow quickly again,” the forces of “depopulation, deleveraging, and deglobalization have become potent obstacles to growth and should prompt policymakers in countries at all levels of development to redefine economic success.”

In light of rising anti-globalist populism, Brown University Professor Jeff D. Colgan and Princeton University Professor Robert O. Keohane reconsider their earlier advocacy of a liberal international order they now concede was more flawed than they realized. “To derig the liberal order and stave off complete defeat at the hands of populists,” they write, “traditional parties must do more than rebrand themselves and their ideas. They must develop substantive policies that will make globalization serve the interests of middle-and working-class citizens.”

Sanam Vakil, associate fellow at Chatham House and lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Europe, and Hossein Rassam, director of Rastah Idealogistics and a former advisor on Iran to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, profile the three likeliest candidates to replace Iran’s aging supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They warn that “it is foolish to hope that pressure from the Trump administration will bring about political change in Iran. Khamenei wants a stable transition, and he is counting on the deep state to ensure it.”

As news emerges of massive new corruption investigations in Brazil, Americas Quarterly Editor in Chief Brian Winter explains that “only by renouncing their spe­cial privileges and committing to genuine reform will Brazil’s poli­ticians be able to ward off disaster and regain the public’s trust.” He argues that President Michel Temer (or his successor) must adopt a strategy of radical transparency.

L. Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues that Trump’s proposed cuts to science funding put the United States at a competitive disadvantage. One successful way to cultivate economic growth in the United States is clear, he writes: “Government provides the resources for basic science, and universities supply the talent, the training, and the commitment. The results inspire innovation, private investment, and further research and development, generating new products, new industries, new jobs, and better lives on a large scale.” 

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