Candidate Trump, and then President Trump, advocated for a dramatic change in the direction of American foreign policy, which he labelled “America First.” His vision stood in stark contrast to the liberal internationalism (LI) pursued by most presidents since World War II.  For Trump, unilateralism would replace multilateralism; retrenchment would replace global engagement; pursuit of short-term, transactional American interests above all else would replace international cooperation.  These dramatic changes in direction were to be accomplished through many smaller steps taken in relation to each issue area and across many countries.

 

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By John Philip Sousa (Library of Congress[1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsAs with other aspects of the Trump presidency, it is impossible at this stage to predict how the day-to-day conduct of foreign policy will actually work out. But in his campaign rhetoric, and also in earlier statements over the years, Donald Trump made it clear that his predispositions are at odds with the orthodoxy that has shaped U.S. foreign policy for the past seven decades.[2] The conjuncture of his accession to the Presidency with a decline in both America’s margin of economic pre-eminence and the public’s appetite for overseas military interventions raises the possibility that we are about to witness the most profound change in the structure of world politics since 1945. It is easier to understand this if we recognize that the nature as well as the scope of the global role that the United States has played in the last seventy years has been a departure from the norms of inter-state relations.

 

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