Robert W. Merry, editor of The National Interest and a renowned writer on historical topics, says that the confrontation between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is, in reality, a battle between nationalism and globalism. A good summary, it seems to me, but worthy of a deeper examination.
In the United States, the temptation of isolating the nation from international conflicts, prescribed by George Washington’s famous farewell address, has always coexisted with Thomas Jefferson’s allusion to the “Empire of Liberty” as the natural destiny of a country that should devote its finest efforts to the expansion of democracy and the protection of the weak beyond its borders.
Sometimes the Republicans adopted the idea of benevolent imperialism — Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address, Teddy Roosevelt, Ike Eisenhower (with great foresight), Ronald Reagan (remember Grenada), the two Bushes — but on other occasions the Democrats did: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and even Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Obviously, that stance wove together a defense of the values and the material interests of the United States. Carter, despite his rejection of violence, proclaimed in 1980 the nation’s willingness to defend at any cost the nations of the Persian Gulf, where clearly there were neither freedoms nor democracy.
In turn, Clinton proclaimed in 1999 the doctrine that bears his name, wherein he set down what began to be called “the responsibility to protect,” which included, very especially, an opposition to genocide even if it required the use of force.
This explains NATO’s intervention in the war in Yugoslavia to protect the Kosovars or the Bosnians. Somehow, Clinton made amends for the United States’ paralysis during the Rwanda slaughter in 1994. Two million Africans were massacred in that horror before the indifferent eyes of the developed world.
It was Obama’s turn to decide Washington’s actions during the so-called Arab Spring, and the U.S. Air Force carried out almost 7,000 missions in Libya until it totally destroyed Qaddafi’s army with consequences that were — of course — damaging to all the parties involved. The spring became a long and bloody winter.
The role of the United States, and what some call the Pax Americana, was forged in Bretton Woods, N.H., beginning in July 1994, when F. D. Roosevelt summoned the representatives of 44 nations to outline the economic bases of the post-war world. The defeat of the Axis countries was evident, and Washington had decided that the U.S. should assume the leadership of the free world to avoid a repetition of what happened after the end of World War One in 1918.
The second step in the same direction was given by Harry Truman in 1946. In a memorable speech, he proclaimed his doctrine of “contention” toward the imperial spasms of Stalinism that besieged Greece, Turkey and (Truman believed) Iran. The Truman Doctrine propelled the Marshall Plan, the creation of NATO, the re-founding of the OAS and the creation of the CIA, among other initiatives that remain extant.
Simultaneously, the State Department was developing diplomatic measures based on “the carrot and the stick” approach to propitiate a good democratic behavior, a strategy always subordinated to the struggle against communism. Democracies were preferable, but anti-communist dictatorships were accepted as a lesser evil.
That’s a contradiction that, at the other end, the left embraces today, when it applauds Obama for maintaining good relations with the Cuban dictatorship and the communists of “Podemos” in Spain, even as they refuse to condemn the violations of human rights in Venezuela and in the perimeter of the so-called “21st-Century Socialism.”
Trump, beyond his xenophobic bullying, his narcissism, his misogyny and his mocking of the disabled, somehow represents the position of the “realistic” Americans who believe that the United States is a nation like any other, whose government must devote itself entirely to defend the interests of its citizens. As the Spaniards say, “let every mast support its sail.”
Hillary, beyond her lies and inexactitudes, and disregarding the rejection that she provokes among many in U.S. society, will presumably continue the policies of Roosevelt-Truman and her own husband, playing the role of “liberal hawk” in the sense given to those words in the United States.
Frankly, despite the many problems and contradictions, the world has been a much safer and more habitable place protected by the United States than what it might have been without Bretton Woods, the Truman Doctrine and everything that came afterward. Because I come from a communist nation, I know perfectly what would have been a planet governed or led by Moscow and organized around the Marxist-Leninist insanity. A terrible nightmare.