International Affairs

Is the United States going rogue?

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The Trump administration has put national security at the center of its policies regarding our external relations. That is appropriate and necessary. Yet the policies thus far adopted and entertained are leading the country in the opposite direction—toward greater insecurity for the United States and its citizens. Moreover, upon taking office, the president swore to uphold the Constitution, yet some of his policies are at best in considerable tension with that oath.

We fear that the president has been overly impressed by the threat of Islamic terrorism. That threat is real—as the attacks in Paris, Nice, Berlin, Brussels, and in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 make abundantly clear—but none of the seven countries named in his executive order on immigration was the country of origin of a terrorist killer in the United States since 2001. The terrorists who have taken American lives in the United States during that period were homegrown, and few were Muslims.

The ban on entry from these Muslim-majority countries is incompatible with our constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom. The suspension and long-term reduction in our refugee resettlement program undermines our historic leadership in the international community on humanitarian issues. Far from ensuring our security, these actions are meant to instill fear among the American population as a prelude to further constraints on civil liberties.

We are concerned about the administration’s decision-making process. The degree to which policies have been determined by a small number of advisers and the president himself has appropriately been described as “unprecedented” in U.S. history. The consequences were predictable. As a result of the lack of coordination with the relevant agencies, the rollout of the immigration order was utterly chaotic.

Since then, a bungled Special Forces operation in Yemen resulted in the death of an American soldier and of a number of Yemeni civilians, as well as in that government’s refusal to permit U.S. forces on the ground going forward. The closely held decision-making processes in the White House have led U.S. lawmakers to propose that no president have the authority to launch a nuclear first-strike without authorization from Congress. Given the erratic character of foreign policymaking thus far, we support that measure. 

{mosads}Furthermore, we worry about the president’s politicization of the country’s intelligence-gathering and military organizations. He has publicly tangled with the intelligence agencies, denigrated their competence, and impugned the motives of those who risk their lives to serve this country. Without reliable intelligence, the president cannot accurately assess threats in a crisis.


Similarly, the president has politicized his relationship with the armed forces. After dismissive remarks about bonafide military heroes during the campaign, the commander-in-chief has recently spoken about the military as if it were one of the main bases of his electoral victory. In so doing, he has antagonized the honorable and patriotic men and women of the country’s military forces whose service derives from their obligation to uphold the Constitution rather than any individual leader. These developments weaken rather than enhance our national security.

We are further troubled by the White House’s view of the American military, which portrays the United States as a weak, humbled power. Nothing could be further from the truth. The U.S. defense budget is larger than that of the next eight countries combined.  We have the finest and best-outfitted armed forces in the world, which is why many countries—from Europe to Japan to Australia and beyond—wish to join with us to secure our common defense. This network of alliances and partnerships has been the linchpin of a 70-year period of relative peace and stability.

As a result of loose comments emanating from the White House, however, European leaders are now discussing how to approach a “post-American Europe.” Meanwhile, the Secretary General of the United Nations has condemned the immigration order as inconsistent with the principles of that body, which reflects Western values and has undergirded a better world order in the post-World War II period.

Instead of reassuring our traditional partners about our continued support, the administration has generally shown itself sympathetic to an authoritarian leader in Russia who intervened in our election to bolster Trump’s candidacy. Ignoring Vladimir Putin’s excesses, he apparently views the Russian autocrat as an ally in the fight against Islamic extremism. Worryingly, the president and his advisers believe that a “Judeo-Christian West” is at the beginning of an apocalyptic war with dark forces, embodied chiefly by Islamic extremists.

Yet such extremists have little support among their co-religionists and ISIS has suffered extensive defeat on the battlefields of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The West is winning this struggle and can only continue to do so by remaining true to its highest values. Yet the United States is behaving as if it faced an existential threat with few means to respond other than the unconstitutional exclusion of outsiders, saber-rattling, and military action.

In short, allies and enemies alike increasingly view the United States as a rogue state. This perception undermines our reputation and diminishes the “soft power” that garners the United States so much global goodwill. A purely transactional relationship with other countries ignores the differences between business and international relations. We need to defuse conflicts diplomatically rather than threaten military action, as some in the administration have done in regard to China. We are heartened that Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who knows the suffering of warfare, provides a steady hand in the administration’s foreign policy team.

Beyond the procedural concerns and policy doubts, however, we are distressed by the president’s extraordinary belittling of the United States, the smallness of his vision, his inclination to retreat behind walls, his dearth of empathy. President Trump depicts an embattled United States as a scene of “carnage,” as if we have just lost a war.

This is not the United States that has provided global leadership since 1945, building institutions and alliances that have both advanced human rights and stability worldwide but guaranteed prosperity and security at home as well. The president’s policies supposedly aim at making us safer, but in reality they make us more insecure.

John Torpey is a Presidential Professor of Sociology and History and Director of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of City University of New York.

Thomas G. Weiss is a Presidential Professor of Political Science and Director Emeritus of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of City University of New York.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump Foreign policy Government international affairs National security United States

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