Solo Cohen

Mr. Cohen says “Trump’s Valueless Foreign Policy” is an unprecedented and dangerous assault on America’s national conscience.  Here he is:

So the threats were no more than bluster, and all is well. That is one view of President Trump’s foreign policy at the 100-day-or-so mark.

Wrong.

Yes, there’s no sign of the Wall, and NATO is no longer “obsolete,” and the Iran nuclear deal is still in place, and the “One China” policy has not been scrapped, and the Iran nuclear agreement endures despite Trump’s dismissal of it as “the worst deal ever,” and the United States embassy is still in Tel Aviv, and neither the Paris climate deal nor the North American Free Trade Agreement has been abandoned.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, have ring-fenced Trump’s recklessness and bellicosity. They have neutralized his ignorance even if nobody can help the president grasp its extent. Some of the loonier members of the president’s entourage have been fired or marginalized. Adults have taken charge. There is still a lot of noise, but “America First” has not upended the world.

Except that it has. A disaster is unfolding whose consequences for humanity and decency will be devastating.

The United States under Trump has embarked on a valueless foreign policy. The president has not met a strongman whose machismo does not beguile him. He prefers guns to diplomats. Militarism and mercantilism constitute a new policy, unconstrained by any consideration of what the United States stands for in the world or the values its alliances have defended since 1945.

This is a radical departure. America is also an idea. That idea is inextricable — whatever the country’s conspicuous failings — from the defense of liberty, democracy, human rights, open societies and the rule of law. Realist, neoconservative and liberal internationalist schools have different interpretations of how this may be achieved, and what limits exist on America’s capacity to extend the reach of freedom. But the unblushing, public embrace of the torturer for mutual gain does not appear in any pre-Trump foreign policy manual I know.

A “very friendly” conversation with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines leads to a White House invitation for a man accused of waging a brutal extrajudicial drug war. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey cements his repressive and increasingly imperious rule in a dubious referendum and gets a congratulatory call from Trump. The red carpet rolls out for Egypt’s autocratic president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who becomes Trump’s “great friend.” President Xi Jinping of China goes from currency manipulator to “terrific person” and seems to inspire in Trump an embarrassing awe. President Vladimir Putin of Russia, having been lumped early on with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany as somebody Trump may or may not be able to trust, basks still in Trump’s agnosticism on brutality.

The message is clear: The United States has granted carte blanche for despots. Whatever brutality Trump’s autocrat-friends inflict on human beings, whatever contempt they have for a free press or the rule of law, is no longer an American concern. Of course, the United States has allied with ruthless strongmen before; Stalin was one. But Trump’s moral abdication, divorced from any coherent strategic objective, has ushered America into new territory. This is not effective foreign policy realism; it is a form of depravity.

And what of the military muscle flexing? The Tomahawk cruise missiles fired on a Syrian airfield in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons was the right response years too late but became a meaningless gesture because it was divorced from any strategy to increase pressure on Assad. A big bomb on Afghanistan also looked, in the end, more like showmanship than anything. In North Korea, there’s another showman with hair: Kim Jong-un (whom Trump says he’d be “honored” to meet). Trump’s brinkmanship with him has succeeded so far in being at once dangerous and ineffective. What matters to this president is the news cycle, not strategy or principle.

The toll is considerable. France and Germany are no longer asking themselves whether they have been cast loose between a hostile Moscow and a hostile Washington, as they did in the first weeks of the Trump administration, but nor have they forgotten the experience. The suspicion remains, with Trump, of shared Russian-American sympathy for the weakening or breakup of the European Union.

In many places, Trump’s valueless foreign policy has provoked such uncertainty bordering on dismay. Trust has been eroded. The State Department, led by a cipher, has been consistently undermined.

When I covered the war in Bosnia more than two decades ago, I got to know an honorable Foreign Service officer — I have known many over the years — named Ron Neitzke. He had been troubled by America’s attempt to ignore genocide and done all he could to right that. Reflecting later on the experience, Neitzke wrote: “One must, in essence, be guided by the belief that a policy fundamentally at odds with our national conscience cannot endure indefinitely — if that conscience is well and truthfully informed.”

What Trump is attempting is no less than the destruction of America’s “national conscience.” This must be resisted by all means.

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