If one tries to imagine the future of U.S. foreign relations following Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election, two broadly opposed possibilities present themselves. Trump’s single presidential term may have been an historical hiccup or parenthesis – “an aberrant moment in time,” as President Joseph Biden hopefully put it – following which there will be a resumption of a normal internationalism in which the U.S. returns to its seat at the head of the table, i.e., business as usual. The second and more likely possibility – a more pessimistic scenario – is that the Trump administration sounded the opening bell of an extraordinarily challenging new era. This eventuality presents rather different choices for American policymakers. One option would be to continue down the nationalist path charted by Trump. Another would be to create a turbocharged version of internationalism – a crisis internationalism, if you will – to address the formidable problems of globalization that lie in store. Whether and how a crisis internationalism will be adopted will require a workable consensus to address the looming threats to globalization. The need for energetic action is glaringly obvious to some people, but not everyone agrees. The nationalist direction may be taken by default because, if nothing else, the Trump years made clear that gaining the approval of the American public for more vigorous internationalist policies will be extraordinarily difficult for policymakers to pull off. It may in the end prove to be impossible.
I suppose it goes without saying that any account of Donald Trump’s presidency, whether concerned with foreign or domestic affairs, must now begin with the grim and brutal events of January 6th, 2021. The insurrection at the United States Capitol was clarifying. We can now see just what Trump stands for, in the last instance. His actions that day, or in the months preceding the assault, may or may not fit the legal definition of “incitement,” but they fall squarely in that moral region. Incitement, they reveal, was the motivating force at the heart of his entire campaign for semi-absolute rule. He stoked the fears of the disconnected and precarious, supercharging our fragmented media ecology of misinformation, ginning up a mob to install himself as what his most fervent supporters call “GEOTUS,” or God Emperor of the United States. Trumpism is, it turns out, what it always appeared to be. It is a corrupt cult of personality riding on a sea of lies. It is a long con expertly worked to pervert and subdue democracy by manipulating resentment and fear—and all to satisfy one man’s vanity.
“Do they do the Cold War in Utrecht?” was the first question I was asked after braving a cloud of volcanic ash to arrive at the prestigious International Graduate Student Conference on the Cold War in Washington DC in April 2010. Such was my enthusiasm to join, that I took my suitcase to Amsterdam Airport on a daily basis to ensure that KLM’s crew would let me onto the first intercontinental flight that was allowed to leave the airport after the notorious eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. Having barely finished my MA-degree in Comparative History, while still working as a Classics teacher at a Dutch gymnasium, I relished the opportunity to share my ideas with such Cold War icons as Odd Arne Westad, Bernd Schäfer and James Hershberg. Although most Europeans – including the entire faculty of the LSE – had not managed to cross the Atlantic, I had gone to great lengths to arrive in Washington exactly to “do the Cold War in Utrecht.” Retrospectively, that seemed a long shot – I had a Classics degree from Cambridge and had only recently embarked on a study of the Cold War – but I did it. In this essay, I will explain how.
As Max Abrahms tells the tale, terrorism, which is the use of violence against civilian targets to achieve positive political objectives, is doomed to failure. He supports this observation with quantitative and qualitative analysis, which draws heavily on contemporary history and the literature on terrorism and political psychology, to explain how and why terrorism fails as a strategy. The work is sophisticated. It incorporates explanations of phenomena occurring at various levels of analysis to explain why terrorism is a losing proposition. Abrahms is careful not to suggest that attacking government or military targets is a recipe for success or to assess if only an occasional attack against civilians will doom some rebel enterprise. Nevertheless, he is unequivocal in his assessment that killing innocents is simply a recipe for political failure.
“Israelis and Palestinians have both suffered greatly from their long-standing and seemingly interminable conflict,” begins Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, the Trump administration’s 181-page policy document on the subject, informally called “The Deal of the Century.” To resolve the conflict, it identified and proposed to solve two problems: the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and that between Israel and the Muslim world. The latter solution manifested itself in the so-called “Abraham Accords”: bilateral economic, cultural, and trade agreements establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, that were signed in 2020. Not by coincidence, Bahrain hosted a “Peace to Prosperity” workshop in June 2019 at which Gulf states and President Donald Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner discussed pooling investment for Palestinian economic development in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, the latter two of which host large refugee camps. Six months later, in January 2020, Peace to Prosperity was published, offering what it called a “realistic two-state solution,” meaning that Palestinian self-government was limited by the “Israeli security responsibility and Israeli control of the airspace west of the Jordan River.” Although referring to a “Palestinian state,” the document acknowledged that it would lack “certain sovereign powers.” In the place of actual sovereignty, it proposed a three-pronged “Trump Economic Plan.”
As Donald J. Trump took office on January 20, 2017, observers expected little from his administration’s human rights policy – traditionally the extent to which government officials take account of human rights violations and protections as they formulate foreign policy. Specifically, few anticipated that the administration would weigh the human rights records of foreign governments as it determined military and economic assistance, formal as well as informal alliances, and high-level visits. The prospect of such an approach raised concerns as it would have represented a break from decades of U.S. foreign policy. The administration’s record ultimately exceeded anxious speculation – not only was the United States largely unconcerned with the protection of human rights internationally, but also observance of human rights in the United States was undermined in many ways, and the administration laid a foundation for drastically revising American human rights commitments had the president won a second term. Many Americans have long conceived of human rights violations as an external phenomenon, but during the Trump presidency, human rights were under assault at home and abroad.
America has had its share of sins, many of them forgiven, largely because of its countervailing virtues. Now it stands in stark relief against an unforgiving world, or at least a skeptical one. In particular, European allies’ doubts about the U.S. global role have grown to unprecedented levels.
Donald Trump’s disdain for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is no secret. Since launching his presidential bid in June 2015, he has offered up memorable soundbites and caustic tweets, touching off a steady parade of transatlantic tizzies. On the campaign trail in 2016, the reality television star-turned-Republican presidential candidate famously lambasted the Atlantic Alliance as “obsolete.”
I didn’t set out to become a transnational historian, but then again, I’m not sure anyone did in the 1970s. My story begins with women’s history. In 1969, after my first year at Bryn Mawr College and a summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, studying French, where I first saw a poster for what was then called “Female Liberation,” I found a name for what I had felt since I was a young girl: I was a feminist. I had already fallen in love with history, so the next step felt inevitable. I set my sights on women’s history. I had started college thinking I would major in psychology or political science, but it was history that grabbed me.
The oldest question in the study of international relations (IR) is: what helps armies win their battles? This is the IR question the ancients struggled over more than any other. The Old Testament, for example, is replete with discussions of armies fighting and trying to win battles, such as the Israelites hoping the Ark of the Covenant would bring them victory, and successfully using an ambush feint at the Canaanite city of Ai. Over the millennia, scholars, and observers from Thucydides to Sun Tzu to Machiavelli to contemporary political scientists have been keen to move beyond exploring material answers to this question, that bigger armies with better weapons win, to developing non-material answers, that cultural, ideational, political, and social factors might help explain war and battle outcomes. Are the armies of some kinds of societies more likely to win? Self-servingly, some have asked, might some noble virtue hard wired into our national identity also help us win at arms? Conversely, might some fatal flaw within our cultural or political genetic code fate us to be destroyed?