How to Fix America’s Foreign Policy Post-Trump
Steve Coll in Conversation with Andrew Keen on Keen On
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On today’s episode, Andrew Keen talks with Steve Coll about what Donald Trump gets from contesting Joe Biden’s presidential victory and the damage to foreign policy that Trump’s administration has caused.
From the episode:
Andrew Keen: Steve, in addition to your role at The New Yorker, you also run the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, and last but certainly not least, you’re the author of many books about the world. Your former life was as a foreign correspondent. As we speak, Biden is announcing his foreign policy team: Tony Blinken, Avril Haines, and a number of other people. As a longtime observer of America in the world, what damage has Trump done? Can we go back to normal? Do we indeed want to go back to normal in terms of America’s role in the world?
Steve Coll: Well, it is a different world four years later, and Trump is responsible for a good part of that difference from the perspective of American interests and American foreign policy. I think the area where it will be possible to make the most progress in foreign policy the swiftest is in the reaffirmation of American alliances in the world. This has been a bipartisan pillar of America’s approach to the post–Second World War world. And Trump’s disdain for NATO, for alliances with the European Union and its principal national powers, his disdain for alliances in Asia with partners such as South Korea and Japan, and his bullying about you have to pay more, that essentially the American diplomatic, military, and economic contributions to these alliances are something that need to be revisited.
All of that Biden will reverse quickly. And I imagine that in many capitals there will be a welcome return to normal engagement around shared challenges globally, whether that is economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which is probably the most urgent matter, or longer term security challenges such as the Iranian nuclear program or the Islamic State or others that we could list.
But beyond that the question is, once the Biden administration gets into those reaffirmed and revived alliance negotiations, how do America’s allies see the stability of the United States, the reliability of American politics, not just over the next few years but over the next decade or two? Clearly the country is polarized, and the margin in this election was not a massive repudiation of Trumpism. Clearly, smart America desks in Europe and Asia are going to understand that there’s every chance that the Republican Party will be gripped by some form of Trumpist populism over the next four to eight years, and that the Republican Party is viable politically and could easily come back to power, whether Trump is reelected [in 2024] or not, with an agenda that emphasizes American nationalism and downgrades traditional alliances.
If you’re in Berlin or Paris or London or Tokyo or Seoul, and you’re thinking about your own national interests, how do you calculate the reliability of an American partnership when you’ve got to balance your relations with Washington, with the rising power of China, the bullying pressure that you may face from Russia, and so on? I think there is a great deal of enduring uncertainty that the Biden administration and any administration that follows is going to have to manage in these alliances.
Steve Coll is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University and reports on issues of politics, intelligence, and national security in the United States and abroad. He is the author of several books, including Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan; Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power; The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century, which won the pen/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction; On the Grand Trunk Road: A Journey Into South Asia; Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the C.I.A., Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, for which he received an Overseas Press Club Award and a Pulitzer Prize; Eagle on the Street, which was based on his reporting on the S.E.C.; The Taking of Getty Oil; and The Deal of the Century: The Breakup of AT&T.