America's bewildering imperialism

How can the leader of the free world not allow other countries to be free?

President Trump.
(Image credit: Illustrated | MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images, -slav-/iStock)

America's relations in the world are in a state of severe flux in the Trump era. The president loves to denounce NATO, but the alliance is expanding. He also delights in expressing warm feelings for Vladimir Putin at the same time that the administration's policies often put us on a collision course with the country Putin leads. We're preparing to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan at the same time that we're saber-rattling with Iran and Venezuela. And Trump is preparing for negotiations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, a man Trump once threatened with nuclear annihilation but whom he now considers a pen pal.

Despite occasional impressive efforts to make this mishmash of impulses and reactions cohere, there is very little about it that makes any kind of broader strategic sense — at least not that the president or leading members of his team have attempted to articulate. Trump has no interest in democracy promotion. He's not a foreign policy realist. He's reflexively hostile to alliances and treaties. There's no sign he favors military restraint in dealing with recalcitrant rivals on the world stage. He hates some dictators (the Iranian mullahs, Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro, Kim 18 months ago) and loves others (Putin, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Kim today). And so on and so forth through a long list of clashing words and actions.

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