USS_Theodore_Roosevelt_-_BigStick

“The Big Stick”

The debate about American foreign policy has always divided along two dimensions. How close in or far out should America protect its security? And for what moral or political purpose does America exist and participate in world affairs?

‘Nationalists’ adopt the close-in approach to American security, generally confined to America’s borders and the western hemisphere.[1] They dominated American foreign policy in the 1920s and 1930s. ‘Realists’ venture further out to anticipate and counter threats in distant regions–Europe, Asia and the Middle East–before they reach America’s shores.[2] They formulated the containment doctrine during the Cold War, permanently stationing for the first time American forces in Europe and Asia. Both nationalists and realists focus on security, not the spread of human rights and democratic regimes. They accept the world as it is, not as they might wish it to be.

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The Donald Trump administration seems to value change for its own sake. The new President appears intent on rethinking all foreign-policy rules and norms, from diplomatic protocols to staffing to relationships with traditional allies. The next four-to-eight years may prove to be a watershed for U.S. grand strategy, a challenge to fundamental assumptions that forces security experts to re-examine their most deeply held beliefs. Or, perhaps little will change. At the very least, the Trump administration will test the notion that U.S. foreign affairs are marked far more by consistency than by change.

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Reset ButtonIn the first half year of the new Trump administration, United States-Russian relations sped through a series of phases only to end suspended basically where they were on Election Day, 8 November 2016—badly damaged, friction-laden, and immobile. Whatever muddled hopes Russian President Vladimir Putin and his entourage may have had for better times with Trump in the White House and whatever obscure intentions President Trump may have had of improving relations, the two sides remain mired in the new Cold War into which they had plunged in the last years of the Obama administration.[2] Their leaders were like figures in straitjackets: the more they struggled, the more their straitjackets tightened. Straitjackets, it might be noted, of their own manufacture, although each was of a different design. Trump was hamstrung by a Congress angry over the Russians’ interference in the presidential election and the possibility that Trump’s people had helped them, and in any event, persuaded that he meant to ‘go soft’ on Putin. Putin’s constraints were self-imposed. Much as he may have wished to ‘normalize’ the U.S.-Russian relationship, his jaded view of what drives U.S. foreign policy left him unwilling or, worse, unable to do his part to make progress possible.

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Donald_Trump_with_ceremonial_swordsmen_on_his_arrival_to_Murabba_Palace,_May_2017With one very important exception, and despite a number of rhetorical and stylistic differences, the Trump Administration’s approach to the Middle East is not substantially different from that of the Obama Administration.[1] President Barack Obama prioritized the fight against Salafi jihadist groups (al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS], and their offshoots) above other regional goals, as does President Donald Trump. Both came to office evidencing a general reluctance to get involved in large-scale military actions, reflective of their common perception that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a mistake, though in both cases they proved willing to use military force in the region. Both publicly committed their administrations to finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though Obama’s efforts there failed and the first ventures by Trump do not look promising.[2] While Trump criticized Obama during the 2016 campaign for ignoring the interests of traditional American allies in the region, it is hard to sustain the proposition that the Obama Administration substantially altered American policy toward Israel and Saudi Arabia and that the Trump Administration is thus ‘restoring’ past ties.

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CherriesIn a political climate characterized by daily claims of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts,’ it is hard to think of a subject more relevant to our time than the American presidency and the politics of deceit. In his new book, John Schuessler demonstrates that the issue of deception and American foreign policy long predates the Trump era. Deceit on the Road to War examines three important case studies: Franklin’s Roosevelt’s maneuvering of the American people into support for the war in Europe, Lyndon Johnson’s deceitful efforts to justify greater American military involvement in North and South Vietnam, and George W. Bush’s overselling of the war in Iraq. Of course, not all cases of presidential deception are exactly the same and the results can also vary. Unlike Johnson and Bush, FDR’s use of deception was probably necessary given the situation he faced, and America’s victory in the war has subjected him to far less historical scrutiny than presidents whose deception ended in defeat.

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Constructing National Security coverIdentity matters for security outcomes”, writes Jarrod Hayes in this fascinating roundtable on his 2013 book, Constructing National Security. Is there anyone working on international security today who can possibly think otherwise? Even the most diehard rationalist must surely recognize the importance of identity to President Donald Trump’s worldview, and to how other states, whether allies or adversaries, are developing their security policies in response to Trump’s election. But how much does identity matter? And when does identity matter? These are thornier issues. In answering these questions, both Constructing National Security and the contributors to this roundtable offer much food for thought.

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The American political class has been working itself into a lather over the hacking of a number of email accounts, evidently by Russian intelligence, and the subsequent leaking of information from those emails during the recent presidential election campaign. Those leaks, it is said, hurt Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and might well have cost her the election.

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Sharing Knowledge, Shaping Europe coverAny new book by John Krige is always likely to offer original insights to our understanding of the interconnections between the history of science and international politics, and Sharing Knowledge, Shaping Europe is no exception. As all the three contributors to this H-Diplo Roundtable make abundantly clear, it is a significant contribution to the scholarly literature on the Cold War, on U.S. foreign policy, on European integration, and on nuclear non-proliferation. In this brief introduction, I shall first group together the many positive things the three reviewers say about the book and then I shall give a brief separate overview of some of their critical observations.

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By Wing-Chi Poon - Port of Piegan Border Station, Montana, USA, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1572246

By Wing-Chi Poon – Port of Piegan Border Station, Montana, USA, CC BY-SA 2.5,

On 6 June 2017, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, addressed the Canadian House of Commons on foreign policy priorities in a speech that was widely interpreted as establishing a new direction in Canada’s international policies–a more independent course involving less reliance on the United States and more support for international forums.[2] The speech was immediately followed by the release of two other government policy statements on defence and foreign aid. The first was a policy review by the Department of National Defence, and it called, among other things, for a $62 billion (CDN) boost in military spending over twenty years.[3] In the second, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced that Ottawa was remodeling its foreign aid policy in a “feminist” direction and that it would now be focused on the promotion of gender equality.[4] Freeland’s speech and the defence and foreign aid pronouncements were quickly linked to the 2016 American election and, although he was not actually mentioned by name in Freeland’s speech, to President Donald Trump. One observer was prompted to announce that Canada was “now entering a post-American phase.”[5]

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