A reckoning with America’s failed national-security policy is long overdue. Donald Trump’s reckless machinations are destructive, but so too is the bipartisan establishment consensus that has defined our role in the world for decades and remains remarkably unshaken, despite its evident bankruptcy.
Our calamitous misadventures in the Middle East and the global financial collapse of 2008 dramatically exposed the failures of this consensus. Yet while citizen movements have begun to transform domestic politics, they have been virtually invisible when it comes to foreign policy. This special issue of The Nation challenges what has been a remarkably narrow debate in this area. Without pretending to offer a grand strategy, it provides alternative perspectives, grounded in values widely shared by the American people. We seek to instigate not only a more open debate, but a new call to action.
Trump’s impulsive belligerence seems centered on his determination to tear down all things Obama. He has abandoned the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. He has shut down the opening to Cuba and moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He seems intent on shattering transatlantic cooperation. In doing so, he has managed to resuscitate the reputations of certain of his predecessors—even that of the ruinous George W. Bush—as well as the crackpot realism of our national-security mandarins.
One widely touted hope is that, after Trump, the United States might return to its previous role as “the indispensable nation.” We should not fall for it. Our national-security policies failed Americans long before Trump announced his run for president in 2015. As Andrew Bacevich argues in this issue, the failures are particularly manifest in our wars without end, exemplified by the debacle in Afghanistan, now in its 17th year. The Global War on Terror generates more terrorists than it kills, and yet US Special Operations Forces have been dispatched to an astonishing 133 countries over the past year—that’s 68 percent of the nations on earth. The official National Security Strategy statements of the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations all committed the United States to maintaining a military so powerful that it cannot be challenged anywhere. The most recent NSS statement declares that “revisionist nations” (Russia and China), not terrorists, are now the major threat to our national security. But in declaring our intention to confront both Russia and China, we are likely to foster an alliance between them that cannot be in our interest. We have also embarked on a renewed nuclear-arms race—mostly with ourselves.