Searching for a Strategy After Trump

“This package has the feel of an intervention—a group attempt to deliver a sobering message to someone in real trouble who refuses to admit it,” writes Foreign Affairs Editor Gideon Rose in his introduction to the May/June lead package, which focuses on how U.S. foreign policy can regain its footing after the Trump era. “Interventions are never pleasant. But sometimes the message gets through. And the first step is acknowledging the problem.”  

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Highlights from the cover package include:

“This Time Is Different”

Daniel W. Drezner

“Climate change, the Middle East, terrorism, trade, nonproliferation—there is never a shortage of issues and areas for those who work in international relations to fret about. . . . Now there is Trump. It is worth asking, then, whether the current fretting is anything new. For decades, the sky has refused to fall. But this time really is different. Just when many of the sources of American power are ebbing, many of the guardrails that have kept U.S. foreign policy on track have been worn down.”

“Back to Basics”

Kori Schake

“Opposition to the president’s erratic policies is not the same as crafting a sustainable foreign policy in the after­math of his term. Washington doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel, but it does need to improve on the things that have worked in the past. . . . The first step down this path is to stop characterizing the United States as hopelessly overburdened and outmaneu­vered—and recognize that the United States still possesses the strengths that allowed it to become the world’s most powerful country in the first place.”

“The Open World”

Mira Rapp-Hooper and Rebecca Friedman Lissner

“Rather than seeking to transform the world along liberal lines, the United States should prioritize openness and political independence. Such a strategy will preserve essential elements of the liberal international order while preparing for the twenty-first century, in which limited cooperation will persist alongside newly intensified rivalry and conflict.”

“The End of Hubris”

Stephen M. Walt

“If Washington rediscovered realism, the United States would seek to pre­serve the security and prosperity of the American people and to protect the core value of liberty in the United States. Policymakers would recognize the importance of military strength but also take into account the country’s favorable geographic position, and they would counsel restraint in the use of force. The United States would embrace a strategy of ‘offshore balancing’ and abstain from crusades to remake the world in its image.”

Additional highlights from the issue include:

“The Longest Wars: Richard Holbrooke and the Decline of American Power”

George Packer

One of the most celebrated diplomats of his generation, Richard Holbrooke began and ended his career struggling with how to resolve two American wars: first in Vietnam, then in Afghanistan. Packer writes, “Somehow, after a half-century excursion across the heights of American greatness, the country had returned to the exact same place. All the questions in Afghanistan had been the questions in Vietnam. Could the United States transform Afghan society? If not, could Americans still win the war? Did our very effort make it less likely? What leverage did we have? Should we get rid of the Afghan leader? Could we talk our way out? ‘It is beyond ironic that 40+ years later we are back in Vietnam,’ Holbrooke wrote in his diary. ‘Of course, everything is different—and everything is the same. And somehow, I am back in the middle of it, the only senior official who really lived it. I had not thought much about it for years, now it comes back every day.’ … Here was the paradox: he knew from Vietnam that what the United States was doing in Afghanistan wouldn’t work—but he thought he could do it anyway. And there was something else. If he applied the real lesson of Vietnam—don’t—he would be out of a job. And then who would he be?”

“Hard Truths in Syria”

Brett McGurk

“Washington must now lower its sights. It should focus on protect­ing only two interests in Syria: preventing ISIS from coming back and stopping Iran from establishing a fortified military presence there that might threaten Israel. . . . The alter­native, in which the United States pretends that nothing has changed, fails to achieve even these modest goals, and further undermines its credibility in the process, is far worse. This is a bitter pill to swallow after the progress of the last four years. But stripped of other options, the United States must swallow it nonetheless.”

“Spies, Lies, and Algorithms”

Amy Zegart and Michael Morell

“From biotechnology and nanotechnology to quantum computing and artificial intelligence (AI), rapid technological change is giving U.S. adversaries new capabilities and eroding traditional U.S. intelligence advantages. The U.S. intelligence community must adapt to these shifts or risk failure as the nation’s first line of defense. . . . The trends it reflects warrant a wholesale reimagining of how the intelligence community operates. Getting there will require capitalizing on the United States’ unique strengths, making tough organizational changes, and rebuilding trust with U.S. technology companies.”

“The New Revolution in Military Affairs”

Christian Brose

“It’s time to think differently, and U.S. defense planners should start by adopting more realistic assumptions. They should assume that U.S. forces will fight in highly contested environments against technologically advanced opponents. . . . Washington must also banish the idea that the goal of military moderniza­tion is simply to replace the military platforms it has relied on for decades. . . . Finally, the old belief that software merely supports hardware must be inverted: future militaries will be distinguished by the quality of their software, especially their artificial intelligence.”

“Killer Apps”

Paul Scharre

“The emerging narrative of an ‘AI arms race’ reflects a mis­taken view of the risks from AI—and introduces significant new risks as a result. For each country, the real danger is not that it will fall behind its competitors in AI but that the perception of a race will prompt everyone to rush to deploy unsafe AI systems. . . . Those risks aren’t something out of science fiction; there’s no need to fear a robot upris­ing. The real threat will come from humans.”

“The Dark Side of Sunlight”

James D’Angelo and Brent Ranalli

“[Congressional dysfunction] has been growing for decades, despite promise after promise and proposal after proposal to reverse it. Many explanations have been offered, from the rise of partisan media to the growth of gerrymandering to the explosion of corporate money. But one of the most important causes is usually overlooked: transparency. Something usually seen as an antidote to corruption and bad government, it turns out, is leading to both.”

“The Lost Art of American Diplomacy”

William J. Burns

“However battered and belittled in the age of Trump, it has never been a more necessary tool of first resort for American influ­ence. It will take a generation to reverse the underinvestment, over­reach, and flailing that have beset American diplomacy in recent decades, not to mention the active sabotage of recent years. But its rebirth is crucial to a new strategy for a new century—one that is full of great peril and even greater promise for America.”

“The New German Question”

Robert Kagan

“The failure of the European project, if it occurs, could be a nightmare, and not only for Europe. It will, among other things, bring back what used to be known as the German question. . . . With the order that made today’s Germany possible now under attack, including by the United States, the world is about to find out. History suggests it may not like the answer.”

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