By Nilay Saiya
Since the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, American foreign policy has been driven by a strategy best described as “liberal hegemony.” This idea, promoted by both Democrats and Republicans alike, sees America as an “indispensable nation” that must use its power and influence to shape global politics and promote American values abroad.
Proponents of liberal hegemony believe in two core ideas: (1) that promoting democracy will make the world a safer place and (2) military might can bring about democratic transformation by defeating terrorists, toppling anti-American regimes and promoting international peace and stability.
Both pillars of liberal hegemony have an abysmal record in the post-Cold War world. It was these ideas that underpinned the failed social engineering efforts of the United States to transform Afghanistan and Iraq into functional, Western-style democracies.
Enter Donald Trump. Part of his appeal, no doubt, is his emphasis on advancing the American national interest above all else in foreign affairs instead of pursuing the grander goals of democracy promotion and nation building.
Trump has scolded American allies for not contributing their fair share to global security institutions and repeatedly denounced the practice of nation building. Given America’s foreign policy scorecard over the past 25 years, these are sensible positions.
Herein lies the real tragedy of Trump’s foreign policy. Had the Republican presidential nominee focused his campaign entirely on these ideas, perhaps he could have sparked a much-needed challenge to the “indispensable nation” mindset that dominates Washington.
Unfortunately, Trump’s reasonable proposals have been far outweighed by his breathtaking combination of racism, hypocrisy, lies, ignorance and offensiveness. He has made absurd and utterly unworkable proposals such as banning Muslim immigration, building a 3,000-mile wall and deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Unfortunately, these inane proposals coupled with his obliviousness, narcissism, temperament and plethora of other character flaws will likely lead many to reject all of Trump’s ideas out of hand, including his very few good ones. This will also likely result in yet another victory for the forces of liberal hegemony – an approach that strongly resonates with the overall worldview of his rival, Hillary Clinton – by default.
In contrast to Trump, Clinton is bright, experienced, nuanced and articulate. But if she wins, she will also bring to the White House the same philosophical dysfunctions that have underpinned American grand strategy over the last 25 years.
Nilay Saiya is an assistant professor of political science and director of international studies at SUNY Brockport.