“I think the scorecard is a grim one. I don’t like to say that,” said Chris Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.
Preble and his colleague John Glaser, the director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, joined the show to discuss the book they wrote with Trevor Thrall, Fuel to the Fire: How Trump Made America’s Broken Foreign Policy Even Worse (and How We Can Recover).
The “scorecard” belongs to the theory of American primacy, which the authors argue has gripped Washington since the end of the Cold War. “It revolves around American military dominance,” said Preble. “It revolves around a presence in the world, an active forward U.S. military presence. It includes the alliance structure that was created during the Cold War and then substantially extended after the Cold War.”
The hinge point, Preble and Glaser contend, was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead of claiming victory and reining in its commitments, the United States took advantage of its disproportionate strength around the world. “That is a recipe for the exercise of arbitrary power in ways that I think are not democratically accountable, said Glaser.
Case in point: the Iraq War. “It lacked UN Security Council approval, it lacked a self-defense case,” explained Glaser. “It got authorization from Congress, but that’s not all you should need.”
“We have to assess policy not on the intentions of those who wield it but on the actual results,” said Preble. “There is nothing noble and principled about undertaking policies that result in human carnage and wreckage.”
“But we shouldn’t restrict our attention to [Iraq]. Look what happened in Libya after Muammar Gaddafi,” Preble continued. “This was an intervention that was conducted by the Obama administration. That suggests to me that we have not learned well enough the lessons of regime change wars that result in horrible human suffering and don’t advance American or global security.”
There was a time when Donald Trump appeared to break with this consensus around primacy. “During the campaign he had a lot of harsh, blunt criticisms of American foreign policy,” said Glaser. “That said, it’s an ‘even a broken clock is right twice a day’ sort of thing. He stumbled upon that rhetoric, but I never viewed him as in the restraint camp.”
So, how do we get a better scorecard on US foreign policy? “It starts with a realization of the limits of American power,” said Preble. “We are a powerful country, but we are not omnipotent. We cannot do everything. We need other countries to be sharing the burden of governance, of peacekeeping, of facilitating human flourishing.”
“And the good news is that most countries, because they benefit from these trends, have every incentive to continue pulling in that direction,” continued Preble. “And so the notion that if it were not for the United States of America pulling the planet towards progress then it would fall back into chaos is just utterly absurd.”
“People forget that the foundation of the globalist design in the post-World War II period - the foundation of the UN system - was non-interference in the affairs of other countries,” said Glaser. “That’s what people at the time determined would tamp down the war-prone nature of the international system. And I think it still can, we just haven’t abided by that principle.”
“And harkening back to the founding era,” Preble continued, “they envisioned an America that would lead by example; that we would create a society here that was worthy of emulation - that people wanted to be like us. We can be that country again.”
“To live by the values that we proclaim others should adhere to,” Glaser concluded.