The Empty Throne

America's Abdication of Global Leadership

American diplomacy is in shambles under Trump, but beneath the daily chaos is an erosion of the postwar order that is even more dangerous.

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Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.

American foreign policy is adrift. For seventy years, the world order that the United States fashioned out of the ruins of World War II produced unprecedented global stability, prosperity, and democratic consensus. Critics argue that Donald Trump’s America First policy threatens this world order. What Trump’s staunchest critics fail to realize, though, is this order has been fraying for years. Ivo Daalder, former ambassador to NATO and the president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and James Lindsay, a senior vice president at the Council of Foreign Relations, give us a chilling account of why things are worse than they seem.

At its core the U.S.-led world order has been a victim of its own success, well before Trump even campaigned for office. The unprecedented period of peace at the end of the 20th century produced record economic growth. Once poor countries like China, India, and Brazil prospered, and as they grew richer, they increasingly contested both the rules and America’s privileged position within the order. At the same time, as the costs grew, many Americans soured on the benefits of global leadership, especially as their own prospects for a better life dimmed.

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Now that Trump sits in the Oval Office, optimists hope that his advisers will curb Trump’s taste for foreign policy disruption. But even if this does occur, neither Trump nor his advisers have a strategy for addressing the fundamental challenge for American foreign policy: how to revitalize the world order on which America’s security and prosperity rests. Daalder and Lindsay are sure Trump will damage that order; he may well finish it off for good.

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