As the Democratic National Convention meeting adjusts to a Zoom era, the hard-working staff here thought it would be appropriate to put words to paper about why, for the five Americans who decide based solely on foreign affairs, you should vote for Joe Biden and against Donald Trump. Next week, the hard-working staff will make the foreign policy case for Trump when the Republican National Convention is held. But for now, let's make the case against Trump.
This was not difficult to write.
Four years ago, Donald Trump told us that we would be sick and tired of all the winning when he was president. He was partially correct — we are sick and tired.
Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of foreign policy. Before Trump, 43 men tried to advance American interests and values across the globe. Some succeeded more than others, but they all shared a few core beliefs about America:
- They believed our commitment to democracy, free markets and the rule of law was a source of strength in the world;
- They believed the United States is stronger with allies than without them;
- They believed that commitments, once made, need to be kept;
- They believed our strength in foreign affairs comes from our strength at home.
Unfortunately, Donald Trump has never understood these ideas. He has never been able to separate the national interest from his own corrupt interests. The result has been four years of catastrophic foreign policies.
There has not been a credible commitment that the Trump administration has not wrecked. As president, Trump has pulled the United States out from arms control treaties, trade agreements, climate change deals, human rights organizations. He has withdrawn the United States from the World Health Organization in the middle of the most widespread pandemic in a century. NATO, the WTO, the alliance with South Korea, even the Universal Postal Union — Trump has threatened to walk away from all of them.
In the foreign affairs balance sheet of this administration, the losses far exceed the gains. Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon now than they were four years ago. Human rights abuses in countries ranging from China to Venezuela to Belarus have worsened. China's influence over United Nations agencies has grown. This president cannot even organize a G-7 meeting, much less a coordinated global response to the pandemic.
This administration's weakening of U.S. credibility has sowed distrust among our allies and fueled the ambition of our rivals. No longer do U.S. adversaries take U.S. rhetoric seriously — they know that Donald Trump will contradict himself within 24 hours, usually by tweet. Or he'll get distracted and try to buy Greenland again.
The rest of the world use to take America's words seriously. Now, whether it is in the halls of the U.N. General Assembly or at NATO leader summits, the world does not respect Donald Trump — they laugh at him.
What has been gained from all this disruption? Trump said he was putting America first, but what, exactly, have Americans gained? After browbeating allies to spend more on their own defense, the United States has spent vastly more on defense in the past three years. North Korea is more dangerous now than it was three years ago. Even before the pandemic, U.S. farmers were on the government's dole and we were in the middle of an industrial recession due to Trump's trade wars. The president's biggest foreign policy success is striking a better deal on postal rates. So yes, we are sick and tired of all the winning.
Like an overleveraged casino, this meager haul has come with a high price tag. This president has trashed American values even more than he has harmed American interests. He has put kids in cages, extolled autocrats, dispatched federal officers to quell peaceful protests, and asserted that the European Union poses a bigger threat than China. He has treated Kim Jong Un with more respect than Angela Merkel. He has called other countries "s***holes." He has failed at every opportunity to comprehend what makes America great. Little wonder that the rest of the world trusts Trump about as much as they trust Vladimir Putin.
Trump's catastrophic handling of the pandemic has taken all of these trends to a new extreme. An American passport used to be a gateway to the world. Americans could feel secure traveling overseas knowing that the most powerful and respected country in the world had their back. Now? Most other countries in the world will not have us.
Donald Trump's damage to American interests and values have been severe — but we can recover. We are fortunate that China and Russia have alienated as many countries as they have coerced. The world still looks to the United States, even in our darkest hour, as a beacon of global liberal values. A Biden administration will restore America's standing in the world again. He will earn the trust of our partners and the respect of our rivals.
Do not underestimate the damage that a second Trump term can do to American foreign policy. But also, do not underestimate the ability of this country to heal itself from its mistakes. Do not underestimate Joe Biden's commitment to a free, secure and prosperous United States. A Biden administration will rely on a fundamental truth about America's problems. No one alone can fix it: together we can.
Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. This piece was written for The Washington Post.