A New Foreign Policy
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Sustainable development means an economy that is not only rich but also socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable. The United States achieves only one-third of the sustainable development agenda—wealth—while ignoring or even scorning the social and environmental objectives.
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The American Century began in 1941.1 It is ending now. While the United States remains the world’s military giant and an economic powerhouse, America no longer dominates geopolitics or the world economy. Its military can defend the United States against attack but cannot decisively determine the direction of geopolitics, or even local politics in places where it intervenes. The key task of American foreign policy, as I see it, is to work with other nations to foster a multipolar world that is peaceful, prosperous, fair, and environmentally sustainable. America’s current policies work directly against these goals.
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Recent paeans to American exceptionalism include Ronald Reagan’s description of the United States as “the shining city on the hill” and Madeleine Albright’s as the “indispensable nation.” Reagan was harking back to the Puritan leader Jonathan Winthrop, who quoted Jesus (Matthew 5:14) in declaring the colonial settlement as “a city upon the hill,” with the world’s eyes upon it. American exceptionalism has been called the nation’s civic religion, cast in secular terms with a religious aura, as in Lincoln’s invocation of America as “the last best hope of Earth.” One part of American exceptionalism is relentless war. Noting more than 280 “military interventions and nuclear standoffs on every corner of the globe,” plus twenty-nine wars with the country’s indigenous peoples, historian Harry S. Stout declares, “The norm of American national life is war.” Part of the exceptionalist tradition has been to find divine purpose in war—to place “America’s faith in the institution of war as a divine instrument and sacred mandate to be exercised around the world.”3
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Not only has war been justified in God’s name, but also victory has been interpreted as God’s providential backing of the United States. Yet this kind of exceptionalism is especially misguided in the twenty-first century. The United States lacks the relative economic and military power, not to mention the knowledge and prudence, to redeem the world through American-led military interventions and regime-change operations. In recent decades, such actions (in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, just to name a few) have led to repeated bloodbaths and disasters, not American victory and security.
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As an exceptionalist foreign policy in a postexceptionalist era, it is likely to strengthen rather than weaken America’s main competitors, especially China.
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Part I: U.S. Exceptionalism in a Changing World
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As America’s relative power has waned and others have begun to catch up, the United States has taken the increasing pushback as an affront. When the United States pushes NATO toward Russia’s borders, and Russia reacts, the United States blames Russia for its belligerence, rather than also noting the provocations of its own policies. When the United States intervenes in Iraq, Syria, and Libya to overthrow regimes, and China and Russia rebuke the United States, the U.S. position has been to accuse those countries of being obstructionist. What look like offensive actions by America’s counterparts are often viewed as defensive actions by those same countries, a phenomenon known to political scientists as the “security dilemma.” Defensive actions by one country look offensive to the other, thereby provoking escalation. Throughout this book, I’ll invoke the security dilemma to encourage deeper scrutiny and understanding of world conflicts—from the world’s point of view, as well as America’s.
1. From Exceptionalism to Internationalism
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I am firmly in the internationalist camp. I believe that American exceptionalism is a dangerous illusion for America in the twenty-first century and that balance-of-power realism is excessively pessimistic about the potential for cooperative diplomacy.
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As an internationalist, I say, “Not so fast.” China’s and Russia’s actions look aggressive from our point of view, but from the vantage points of China and Russia they are viewed as responses to U.S. actions. Recall the security dilemma—what looks like an offensive action to us may be a state’s attempt to defend itself. Many Chinese strategists plausibly believe that the United States will try to stifle China’s future economic growth and note that the United States outspends China on the military by more than two to one ($596 billion to $215 billion, in 2015), while deploying military bases in more than seventy countries, compared with China’s sole foreign base in Djibouti. Considered through this lens, China hardly seems like the aggressor.
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2. Exceptionalism as the Civic Religion
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The United States assumed postwar leadership in several fundamental ways. Most creatively, and thanks to the political genius and vision of Franklin Roosevelt, the United States led the design and launch of the new United Nations bodies, including the Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank and International Monetary Fund), the UN agencies (such as the World Health Organization), and other regional institutions. Beginning with Roosevelt’s administration and continuing with Truman’s, the United States also came to dominate global finance, providing large-scale development aid, official loans, and private capital investments for economic development. American companies, in the lead in new technologies, invested around the world. The dollar decisively replaced the pound sterling at the center of international finance and payments. Yet internationalism was also matched by building a new security state.
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The third face—the secretive, self-serving actions by the United States to defend U.S. commercial interests—has had a very bad yet predictable habit of returning to bite us. Americans have repeatedly overthrown governments for American financial convenience only to be thrown out later by a subsequent turn of politics.
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As I explained in Building the New American Economy, Trump’s view is nonsense.11 Yes, trade has opened the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. economy, not because of unfair trade practices abroad or bad trade negotiations but because the United States exports capital-intensive goods in return for labor-intensive imports from abroad. The expansion of this kind of trade indeed widens inequality in the United States, but the correct response is to keep trade open (which enlarges the overall U.S. and world economy) while redistributing income from America’s rich to the poor, a solution that runs diametrically opposite to Trump’s policies of aiding the rich at the expense of the poor.
3. The Era of Global Convergence
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In 1992, U.S. exceptionalists looked out over the world and saw confirmation of their vision of a U.S.-led (and dominated) world. The great enemy was gone. The bipolar power structure of the United States and the Soviet Union was now a unipolar world, and the “End of History”—as Francis Fukuyama famously termed the era, seeing it as “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”3—was, they imagined, at hand. What the exceptionalists didn’t realize is that 1992 would also mark an inflection point in the acceleration of China’s growth.
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Here is the key point: The dominance of the North Atlantic was a phase of world history that is now closing. It began with Columbus, took off with James Watt and his steam engine, was institutionalized in the British Empire until 1945 and then in the so-called American century, but has now run its course. The United States remains strong and rich, but no longer dominant. We are not heading into the China century, or the India century, or any other, but a world century. The rapid spread of technology and the near-universal sovereignty of nation-states means that no single country or region will dominate the world in economy, technology, or population. This is especially true because China’s share of the world’s population will decline sharply, and with it, China’s share of world output.
5. Russia–U.S. Relations in the Changing World Order
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We should understand, indeed, that it was U.S. misguided actions at least as much as Russia’s renewed aggression that led us from Gorbachev’s vision of a common European home to the new Cold War today.
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These differences in interpreting the Gorbachev era mattered then and still matter now. The way we understand this history informs our visions for the future. In my view, Gorbachev was pointing to a new order in Europe in which the security needs of Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union would be met by ending the economic divisions, moving forward with economic and technological integration, and reversing the arms race. In the hard-liners’ view, by contrast, renewed armament had worked, and Russia’s economic downward spiral in the late 1980s was the opportunity to win the Cold War, sweep Eastern Europe into the NATO security umbrella, and leave Russia to suffer the consequences of decades of its socialist folly and expansionism.
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When Vladimir Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin in 2000, Putin still expressed the hope for improved relations with the United States and Europe. Yet the following decade would poison the well. The U.S. lack of assistance to Russia in the early 1990s had been the first snub. American complicity in the rise of the oligarchs was the second grievance. The third cause of rupture was U.S. military policy,
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Against the advice and wishes of some NATO members, President George W. Bush decided in 2008 to offer NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine. This offer, I believe, crossed Putin’s red line. Georgia is Russia’s immediate neighbor in the underbelly of the Caucuses. Ukraine lies directly athwart Europe and Russia; it is a vital buffer against European invasion, home to Russia’s Black Sea naval port, and vital hub of Russia’s military industry. The idea that either Georgia or Ukraine would join NATO was unacceptable to Putin. I imagine he saw it as akin to an American president’s view were Mexico or Canada invited by China to join a military alliance.
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According to former NATO commander Wesley Clark, America’s wars in the Middle East have been designed, in part, to deprive Russia of influence and friendly regimes in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Putin repeatedly railed against America’s regime-change tactics, regarding them as directly destabilizing to the Middle East, hostile to Russia’s interests in the region, and a potential forerunner of similar actions by the United States against Russia itself.
Part II: America’s Wars
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It has required our finest historians, such as John Coatsworth and Harry S. Strout, to remind us that U.S.-led “regime change” has been a central pillar, perhaps the defining feature, of American foreign policy for centuries. Outstanding pundits and analysts such as Andrew Bacevich and Stephen Kinzer have filled in much of the detailed and often shocking narrative. Americans like to think of themselves as a peaceful society, but in truth America has been relentlessly at war from the very founding of the first colonies to the present day.
6. American Imperialism and “Wars of Choice”
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Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the American empire is that it was a latecomer to imperial rule.
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The issue is not whether an imperial army can defeat a local one. It usually can, just as the United States did quickly in Afghanistan and in Iraq. The issue is whether it gains anything by doing so. Following such a “victory,” the imperial power faces unending heavy costs in terms of policing, political instability, guerilla war, and terrorist blowback.
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The United States is trapped in the Middle East by its own pseudo-intellectual constructions. During the Vietnam War, the “domino theory” claimed that if the United States withdrew from Vietnam, communism would sweep Asia. The new domino theory is that if the United States were to stop fighting in the Middle East, Islamic terrorists such as ISIS would soon be at our doorstep. The truth is almost the opposite. ISIS is a ragtag army of perhaps 30,000 troops in a region in which the large nations—including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey—have standing armies that are vastly larger and better equipped. I argued for years that the regional powers could easily drive ISIS out of the territories it held in Syria and Iraq if the regional powers chose to do so, and indeed that proved to be the case in 2017, when both Iraq and Syria retook ISIS territory. The U.S. military presence in the Middle East is actually the main recruiting tool for ISIS and other terrorist groups. Young people stream into Syria and Iraq to fight the imperial enemy.
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There are actions we can undertake to prevent new wars and covert engagements. As a first step, the CIA should be drastically restructured, to be solely an intelligence agency rather than an unaccountable secret army of the president. When the CIA was created in 1947, it was given the two very different roles of intelligence and covert operations. Truman was alarmed about this dual role, and time has proved him right. The CIA has been a vital success when it provides key intelligence, but an unmitigated disaster when it serves as the president’s secret army. We need to end the military functions of the CIA, yet Trump has recently expanded the CIA’s warmaking powers by giving the agency the authority to target drone strikes without Pentagon approval. Second, it is vital for Congress to reestablish its decision-making authority over war and peace. That is its constitutional role, indeed perhaps its most important constitutional role as a bulwark of democratic government. Yet Congress has almost completely abandoned this responsibility.
7. Ending the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
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British colonial strategists identified four main British interests regarding Ottoman Palestine. The first was to secure the eastern flank of the Suez Canal, which was the British Empire’s major trade route to Asia and its lifeline to British India. The second was to secure an Eastern Mediterranean port for Middle East oil, notably for the oil anticipated to come from British-controlled Mosul (now in Iraq). The third was to divide the Mideast spoils with Britain’s main wartime ally, France. And the fourth aim was to dangle promises regarding Palestine to other parties in order to gain support for Britain’s war effort. For the fourth purpose, winning the war, Britain promised the land of what would soon become Mandatory Palestine three times over in contradictory commitments. Britain’s first promise was the secret 1916 Sykes-Picot Treaty with France to divide the territory between Britain and France. Britain’s second promise, in the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, was to pledge the land to the Arabs in return for their revolt against the Turkish Ottoman overlords. The third promise, the Balfour Declaration, called for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The goal, according to historians, was in part to entice the United States to back the British war efforts, and even to entice the Bolshevik leadership (imagined by Britain to be pro-Jewish) to come onside as well.
8. North Korea and the Doomsday Clock
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Yet if ever a historic opportunity for safety was squandered, this was it. Every U.S. president since then—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—has contributed to a decline of global safety, with the minute hand moving from seventeen minutes before midnight to just three minutes before midnight last year, even before Donald Trump became president. And after just a few days in office came another thirty-second jump of the minute hand toward midnight. What went wrong between 1991 and now? Two grave mistakes were made. The first was the failure to capitalize on the end of the Cold War by establishing a trustworthy relationship between the United States and Russia, as detailed in chapter 5. The second mistake was to turn a blind eye to the second existential threat: human-induced global warming.
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The Bulletin made clear that the failure to act on climate change was a major reason for moving the Doomsday Clock forward in 2017, noting that Trump’s “nominees to head the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency dispute the basics of climate science.”
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The United States faces a trap of its own making. For decades, this country has forcibly overthrown regimes it deemed hostile to U.S. interests. North Korea fears that it is next. Wars can happen accidentally, especially in situations like this, when there is so much mistrust, misunderstanding, and inflexible posturing. Recently, three regimes that ended their nuclear programs were subsequently attacked by nuclear powers. Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program came to an end after the first Gulf War, in 1990; Saddam was overthrown by the United States in 2003. Moammar Khadafy ended his nuclear program in December 2003 and was overthrown by U.S.-backed forces in 2011. Ukraine surrendered its nuclear forces in 1994 in return for security guarantees, but was subsequently attacked by Russia in 2014.
9. Trump’s New National Security Strategy
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One of the reasons why the National Security Strategy regards cooperation so bleakly is that it largely rejects the very need for cooperation. Instead of looking for global cooperation to decarbonize the world’s energy system in order to achieve the globally agreed climate goals, the document instead declares that “U.S. leadership is indispensable to countering an anti-growth energy agenda that is detrimental to U.S. economic and energy security interests.” There is not even lip service paid to other environmental challenges such as deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and water scarcity. There is a passing mention, just one sentence, about disease control.
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The U.S. strategy of military dominance will ultimately prove too costly to sustain now that China is ready to invest heavily to narrow the military gap with the United States.
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If the United States persists in trying to maintain military dominance, we will set off an enormous arms race with China, this time with a country that is four times larger by population and 20 percent larger by outputs than the United States (when GDP is measured at international prices per the IMF).
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In 1993, the United States accounted for 49 percent of the military outlays of the twenty largest military spenders.16 By 2016, the U.S. share had declined to 43 percent. In practical terms, the decline is even larger. If we group the countries according to whether they are military allies of the United States, the decline in military outlays of the United States plus allies is much starker. In 1993, the United States plus its allies accounted for a whopping 94 percent of military outlays of the top-twenty spenders. By 2016, their share of military outlays had declined to 72 percent.17 The biggest shift was China, which accounted for 2 percent of the military outlays in 1993 but 15 percent in 2016.
Part III: U.S. Foreign Economic Statecraft
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The American economy has shown a mixed performance over the past quarter-century since the end of the Cold War. On the one hand, economic growth has continued, albeit at a rate that was less than the preceding quarter-century (roughly the 1960s through the 1980s). On the other hand, economic inequality soared, jobs were shed in manufacturing, and America divided into two economies—a prosperous one for those with four-year college degrees or more and a stagnant or declining economy for those with less education. I have described this divided economy in two recent books, The Price of Civilization (2012)1 and Building the New American Economy (2017).2
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Trump’s trade policies will not bring home millions of manufacturing jobs and might instead cause a trade war in which the United States itself will be among the losers. China’s economic statecraft, on the other hand, based on regional integration (One Belt, One Road) and large, long-term investments in cutting-edge technologies, is very likely to boost China’s global competitiveness as well as its environmental sustainability.
10. The Economic Balance Sheet on “America First”
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Trump should be taxing the booming incomes of the capital owners (with their stock valuations at record levels) in order to ease the economic burdens on the workers. Unfortunately, he is doing exactly the opposite: giving yet more tax breaks to corporate capital on the claim that corporate tax cuts will also bring manufacturing jobs back home.
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Moreover, other nations will now cut their own corporate tax rates to prevent the United States from shifting investments out of those other economies. This will produce a “race to the bottom” in capital taxation.
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The key to resolving America’s ills depends on greater fairness, decency, and honesty within our own borders, and depends notably on how we share the benefits of advanced technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence and the booming profits they are producing. The real counterpart of falling American working-class incomes is not the rise of Mexican or Chinese incomes but the soaring profits and incomes now going to the richest 1 percent of Americans. The key solutions for American workers lie right here at home, not in overseas military adventures, new arms races, or self-defeating trade wars. Yet given Trump’s misguided economic populism, that’s exactly where we’re headed.
11. Foreign Policy Populism
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The correct technical statement is that a country’s current account balance, which is closely related to the trade balance, is equal to the nation’s saving minus its domestic investment. The United States imports more from abroad than it exports because the U.S. saving rate is chronically lower than the U.S. domestic investment rate. If Americans saved more, the United States would export more. For 2016, according to the IMF World Economic Outlook database, the U.S. saving rate was 18 percent of GDP, compared with the German saving rate of 27.5 percent and China’s saving rate of 45.9 percent. U.S. saving was not enough to cover the U.S. investment rate at 19.7 percent of GDP, while in both Germany and China, the domestic saving rate was greater than the investment rate, leaving a surplus for export. Trump, with exquisite economic illiteracy, has missed this whole point. For Trump, the fact that China and Germany export more than they import has only to do with China’s and Germany’s unfair trade practices. With his conspiratorial mind-set, Trump believes that America’s trade deficit simply means that somebody is taking advantage of the United States. He is, in fact, both economically illiterate and famously paranoid, always supposing a conspiracy someplace.
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The emperor has no clothes and, it seems, no competent economic advisers either.
12. Economic War with China
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Then, in 1985, the United States struck harder, insisting that Japan massively revalue (strengthen) the yen in a manner that would leave Japan far less competitive with the United States. The yen doubled in value, from 260 yen per dollar in 1985 to 130 yen per dollar in 1990. The United States had pushed Japan to price itself out of the world market. By the early 1990s, Japan’s export growth collapsed, and Japan entered two decades of stagnation. On many occasions after 1990, I asked senior Japanese officials why Japan didn’t devalue the yen to restart growth. The most convincing answer was that the United States wouldn’t let Japan do it. Now comes China.
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Even worse, an American effort to weaken China is doomed to fail. When the United States pressed Britain to give up its empire, Britain was fighting for its very survival, and with a population just one-third that of the United States. When the United States pressured Japan in the 1980s, Japan’s economy was only one-third of America’s, and Japan depended on the United States for its military security. China, by contrast, has a larger economy, is four times more populous, and is America’s creditor, not its debtor. China has strong and growing trade, investment, and diplomatic relations with other countries all over the world that would likely be strengthened, not weakened, by U.S. belligerence. It’s also important to remember that China’s proud history as a unified nation is ten times longer than America’s, around 2,250 years compared with around 225 years.
13. Will Trump Hand China the Technological Lead?
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Yet the budget cutting comes in the midst of one of history’s great technological revolutions. The remarkable advances in artificial intelligence, computer architecture, nanotechnology, genomics, neuroscience, and other fields are opening up new possibilities for zero-carbon energy, high-productivity agriculture, low-cost high-quality health care, lifelong online learning, personalized medicine, conservation biology, and other opportunities vital for sustainable development. Now is precisely the time to be increasing rather than cutting the government’s backing for cutting-edge research and development.
14. Toward a World Economy of Regions
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When the European imperial powers carved up Africa in the 1880s, they created a mosaic of national boundaries that suited European rivalries but made little sense in terms of ethnicity, watersheds, riverways, land transport, seaports, ecosystems, biodiversity, and mineral wealth. As a result of these arbitrary boundaries and their further division at the time of independence, Africa ended up with the largest number of landlocked nations of any major world region, fourteen of the fifty-four countries.
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Geographic determinism? Earning the Rockies
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I have long fantasized about the “ultimate” case of regional integration, with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran finally deciding that there is far more that unites the Turks, the Arabs, and the Persians, than truly divides them. Their recent history has been to play one superpower off against the other, looking to Britain or France to keep Russia away, or Russia to keep the United States at bay, and so on. How much better off they would be if they worked together to tell the great powers in unison to stay away, at least in military terms. These three regional powers could then work together building a new regional infrastructure, tapping the region’s vast solar power, desalination needs, shipping routes, and biodiversity, as well as its young people who can harness the new information technologies. Stranger things have happened.
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In place of dead-end nationalism and warmongering exceptionalism, we should be strengthening regional groupings such as NAFTA, the European Union, the African Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and cooperation in northeast Asia among China, Japan, and South Korea. In every part of the world, sustainable development will depend on such regional cooperation.
Part IV: Renewing American Diplomacy
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I suggest that the United States would benefit enormously by adopting a UN-oriented foreign policy, one that aims to bolster the UN Charter and the work of UN institutions rather than resist them. Global cooperation can prevent or end wars through cooperative diplomacy in the UN Security Council, while sustainable development can be promoted through the 17 SDGs and the remarkable work of UN specialized agencies.
15. From Diplomatic Leader to Rogue Nation
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Starting in the early 1970s, the United States began to pull back from global financial leadership. In 1971, President Richard Nixon unilaterally severed the fixed exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and gold (thirty-five dollars per ounce), thereby ending the “gold standard” of the postwar monetary system. The United States refused to bear the macroeconomic costs that would have been needed to preserve the dollar’s peg to gold as was called for under the globally agreed monetary arrangements, and as was expected by other countries. The rest of the world, which was left holding dollar reserves that were now reduced in value, suffered the cost of Nixon’s unilateral action. This action marked a watershed, a turning point in America’s readiness to foot the bill for the global financial system.
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I have already recounted the stark difference between America’s financial approach toward Poland in 1989 and Russia in 1991. The first showed U.S. financial leadership, the other the abnegation of leadership. Yes, the United States still wanted to lead after 1991, but through military dominance over its former adversary rather than through cooperative economic strategies. Official development assistance generally plummeted in the 1990s. Clinton wanted a post–Cold War peace dividend without having to reinvest any of it abroad to build a new world order.
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I therefore see several reasons for America’s shrinking interest in global economic, financial, and diplomatic leadership. One was petulance. The United States was annoyed by demands for global economic reform coming from the developing countries; they would take the global system on America’s terms, or else. Another was the end of the Cold War. The United States had won; the Soviet Union had lost. The United States no longer needed to lure developing countries to its side and away from the Soviet Union. A third was arrogance. Why lead with inducements (carrots) when military power (sticks) will do just fine? The United States turned from “soft” power to “hard” power after 1991, especially since the Soviet Union was no longer present as a military counterweight (or so the United States thought, until Russia’s intervention in Syria in 2015).
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While it is understandable that the United States would no longer bankroll global development as it did in the 1940s–1950s, the need for global public goods has not abated just because U.S. economic dominance has diminished. The global needs remain, for example, to fight global poverty and battle human-induced climate change. Rather than turning its back on such global challenges, the United States should be calling on other nations to join with it in meeting the challenges together. Instead, the United States has abdicated its responsibilities by slashing aid, relying excessively on hard power, and renouncing the instruments of global diplomacy.
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Only four countries have failed to ratify the convention on elimination of discrimination against women (CEDAW)—the United States plus Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. Only the United States is not a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Only the United States is not a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Almost all countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the United States stands with Uzbekistan, Libya, Chad, Belarus, and a few others in not ratifying that treaty.
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With Trump’s presidency, the United States is completing the move from postwar leader to twenty-first-century rogue state.
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Thus, the total annual UN regular budget amounts to around one day and nine hours of U.S. military spending. The U.S. share of the UN regular budget equals roughly seven hours of Pentagon spending. Some waste.
16. The Ethics and Practicalities of Foreign Aid
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There is a lot of negative propaganda about foreign aid, since foreign aid is an easy target. There are very few knowledgeable people around to defend it, and the recipients it keeps alive don’t vote in U.S. elections. We certainly hear an earful: aid is wasted; aid is a huge budgetary burden; aid demeans the recipients; aid is no longer needed in the twenty-first-century. In short, we are told that aid does not work. The simple fact is that some aid is wasted and other aid is used brilliantly. The main issue is whether the aid directly supports the work of local professionals saving lives, growing food, installing rural electricity, and teaching children, or whether the aid goes instead to foreign warlords or overpriced American companies.
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Aid is a only around 1 percent of the federal budget, and less than one-fifth of 1 percent of national income.
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Another myth is that the United States carries the aid burden while other governments shirk their responsibility. This is plain wrong. In 2016, the ODA/GNI ratio of the European Union, for example, was 0.51, roughly three times the aid effort of America’s 0.18. Combining all of the non-U.S. OECD donor countries, the ratio of ODA to GNI stood at 0.42, more than twice the U.S. aid effort.
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By contrast, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did very little during their presidencies. Obama’s main contribution was to continue Bush’s programs but without funding the growing needs.
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Regarding the links between aid and national security, there is no need to listen to a moralizing economist. Listen directly to the generals. More than 120 retired generals and admirals recently wrote to the congressional leaders of both parties to defend aid as a critical bulwark of national security: The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps, and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way. As Secretary James Mattis said while commander of US Central Command, “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.” The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism—lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.1
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What is especially foolish about the Trump proposal is that the United States would be slashing its own aid precisely when China is ramping up its aid. China is signing and financing major development projects across Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, Western Asia, and Africa. China may already be the world’s largest aid giver. Trump’s plans would accelerate the transition to China’s preeminence. Who will find diplomatic support in the next global crisis, China or the United States? And whose companies will win the next round of major infrastructure projects? Both the United States and China can and should do their part.
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We must ultimately acknowledge another more radical, and more accurate, perspective: this is not aid at all, but justice. There are two senses in which “aid” is absolutely the wrong word when it comes to helping the world’s poor. The first returns us to morality. In his wonderful encyclical “Populorum Progressio” (1967), Pope Paul VI noted this of giving to the poor: “As St. Ambrose put it: ‘You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The Earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.’” This idea of “appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use” is appropriate in a dramatically literal sense as well. The rich countries, including our own, have long robbed and despoiled the planet for our narrow economic gain. Britain, the United States, and other powers have made a career of stealing the oil, gas, and minerals out from under the sands of other nations. Our countries transported millions of African slaves to work the plantations stolen from indigenous populations. Our multinational companies have routinely bribed foreign leaders for land and oil reserves. The U.S. government has launched dozens of coups and wars to secure oil, gas, copper, banana and sugar plantations, and other valuable resources. Our fishing fleets have illegally and recklessly scoured the seas, including the protected economic zones of the poorest countries. And our reckless emissions of greenhouse gases are directly responsible for droughts, floods, and extreme storms around the world, with a president and oil industry too evil even to acknowledge the basic scientific truths.
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Winners take all
17. Managing Migration
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Ask yourself the question: What share of the U.S. population is Muslim? Americans, on average, guess 17 percent. The correct answer is around 1 percent.
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The fact that more-educated individuals harbor less negative views of Islam is a familiar pattern found in social psychology. Education generally breaks down us-versus-them stereotypes.
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The long history of the United States is of two white classes, a rich elite (one that originally included the slave-owning class) and a hardscrabble working class that takes solace in its social status remaining above that of even more desperate African Americans, Native Americans, and other minorities. Rich whites have long sought the political allegiance of poor whites by promising to keep minority groups from rising too far, too fast in economic, social, and political terms. The goal of the elites has been to forestall a class-based politics in which poor whites and poor minority groups actually join together to demand redistribution from the rich. In this the rich have been remarkably cynical and remarkably successful. (In a perverse way, the elites of both political parties have tended to favor distinctive brands of identity politics over class politics to divert attention from the massive inequalities of income and wealth in American society.)
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The 1924 Immigration Act, in short, achieved two goals: first, to reduce dramatically the total number of new immigrants, and second, to ensure that almost 90 percent of the immigrants allowed into the United States were from Northern Europe. During this process, there was an attentive and approving observer abroad. Adolf Hitler praised the new U.S. immigration policy in Mein Kampf,
18. Achieving Sustainable Development
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As of early 2018, according to Forbes magazine, a mere 2,208 individuals—the world’s billionaires—had $9.1 trillion in wealth.1 If the $9.1 trillion were a foundation endowment with a 5 percent per year payout rate, the annual payout would be $455 billion. That sum could end extreme poverty (SDG 1), ensure universal health coverage (SDG 3), and guarantee access for the poor to a quality education (SDG 4).
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19. A New Foreign Policy for American Security and Well-being
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The purpose of U.S. foreign policy is not to be the mightiest or the most feared or the most powerful nation in the world. It’s not to be the richest nation in the world. The purpose of U.S. foreign policy is to achieve national security in a manner that enables Americans to achieve happiness and to help the rest of the world do the same.
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I do not expect the Trump administration to pursue the internationalist course that I have recommended. Rather, I believe that the folly of America First will expose itself and cause the nation to redirect its energies and policies. Trump will be gone soon enough. It’s our task to prepare a foreign policy for the post-Trump future and to prevent irreparable harms in the meantime.
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To summarize the internationalist approach set out in these pages, I conclude with ten priorities for a New American Foreign Policy aimed at achieving true national security and well-being for the American people.
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First, live by the UN Charter.
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Second, recommit to the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement.
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Third, raise the UN budget.
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Fourth, ratify the pending UN treaties.
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Fifth, regain momentum on nuclear disarmament.
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Sixth, cooperate on new technologies.
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Seventh, find regional solutions to Middle East violence.
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Eighth, end the CIA’s covert military operations. No institution has done more to undermine America’s democracy and to discredit its foreign policy than the CIA when acting in its capacity as the private army of the U.S. president.
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Ninth, overhaul the U.S. budget. America has starved the portions of federal government that can raise well-being—higher education, job training, family support, environmental conservation, civilian R&D, and sustainable infrastructure—while spending almost a trillion dollars per year on the U.S. military, including hundreds of overseas bases, nonstop overseas conflicts, and hugely expensive weapons systems.
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Tenth, celebrate America’s true exceptionalism. America’s exceptionalism does not lie in its military strength, CIA operations, or rejection of UN treaties. America’s exceptionalism lies in its cultural and ethnic diversity.