Every week, often more than once a week, there’s another article in the major media or in foreign-policy publications about the demise of the post–World War II Anglo-American world order. These analyses typically single out the transatlantic alliance between the United States and Europe―two of the world’s largest economies―for special concern and anxiety as the underpinning of this world order. Not surprisingly, President Trump’s wildly fluctuating comments on NATO (despite the fact that he is expanding it), his unprecedented rudeness to European leaders, and his friendliness with Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki summit have all added to the angst.
The basic story behind this moaning and melancholy is that US leaders put together a “rules-based” system based on “open markets” and democracy (the two are sometimes seen as synonymous) that has fostered prosperity and relative stability. The United States was the only sizable industrial economy to emerge not only unscathed but doubled in size following the war. While others might have taken advantage of this unrivaled power for their own gain, the story goes, America’s beneficent rulers constructed a world order for the good of everyone. Trump is seen as a threat to its continued existence.
This assessment of the postwar world order leaves out some 3 million dead Vietnamese and half a million dead in Indonesia, who might question the beneficence of this system if it had not killed them. A million dead Iraqis, if they could be heard, would probably also raise objections about whether US dominance has been in the interests of all. And there are hundreds of millions of people in Latin America, Africa, and other parts of Asia who suffered for decades under US-backed dictatorships, as well as US-sponsored wars. Much of the violent dysfunctionality in these countries today is a direct result of these interventions, as well as continuing US influence.
In fact, as I write this now, the US military is directly involved in a war that has deliberately produced what the UN has called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, in Yemen. That war has pushed more than 8 million people to the brink of starvation, created the worst outbreak of cholera in modern history, and killed thousands of civilians in bombing raids. Washington is providing midair refueling to the Saudi and UAE bombers, intelligence, targeting assistance, on-the-ground military personnel, and more―constrained only by growing opposition in Congress.