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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

International Views of the US

In Defying the Odds, we discuss foreign policy issues in the 2016 campaign. Our update takes the story through the 2018 election.

To understand how this moment in U.S. history is being seen in the rest of the world, I spoke to more than a dozen senior diplomats, government officials, politicians, and academics from five major European countries, including advisers to two of its most powerful leaders, as well as to the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. From these conversations, most of which took place on the condition of anonymity to speak freely, a picture emerged in which America’s closest allies are looking on with a kind of stunned incomprehension, unsure of what will happen, what it means, and what they should do, largely bound together with angst and a shared sense, as one influential adviser told me, that America and the West are approaching something of a fin de siècle. “The moment is pregnant,” this adviser said. “We just don’t know what with.”
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As my colleague Anne Applebaum has shown, the Soviet Union oversaw famine, terror, and the mass murder of millions. Whatever America’s recent flaws, they have been practically and morally incomparable to those horrors. Today, with Beijing overseeing the mass surveillance of its citizens and incarcerating one ethnic-minority group almost en masse, the same can be said of China. And yet this claim of moral equivalence is no longer the smear of a foreign cynic but the view of the president of the United States himself. In an interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News in 2017, Trump was asked to explain his respect for Putin, and he replied with the usual generalities about the Russian president leading his country and its fight against Islamist terrorism, prompting O’Reilly to interject: “Putin’s a killer.” Trump then responded: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country is so innocent?” (Before he became president, Trump also praised China’s apparent strength in violently suppressing the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests.)
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Those that I spoke to divided their concerns, implicitly or explicitly, into those caused by Trump and those exacerbated by him—between the specific problems of his presidency that, in their view, can be rectified, and those that are structural and much more difficult to solve. Almost everyone I spoke to agreed that the Trump presidency has been a watershed not just for the U.S. but for the world itself: It is something that cannot be undone. Words once said cannot be unsaid; images that are seen are unable to be unseen.
Shay Khatiri at The Bulwark:
The United States has a long record of criticizing its adversaries’ records on human rights—not just because a concern for liberty, justice, and democracy is baked into the nation’s DNA, but also because such criticism can be a valuable tool of foreign policy. The encouragement of senior American officials can inspire courage for rebellions and can guilt passive Europeans into taking actions against human-rights abusers.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been relying on this tactic a lot. But he is constantly being undermined by his boss’s conduct.
For instance, in April, the secretary tweeted to condemn the Hong Kong government’s violation of its citizens’ right to “peaceful assembly.” Six weeks later, the world watched as the Trump administration violently dispersed peaceful protesters near the White House.
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And another example, the most damning of all: John Bolton says that President Trump gave a nod to the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, to continue building concentration camps for Uighur Muslims. Assuming Bolton’s account is accurate, Trump’s actions represent an epic bankrupting of U.S. moral authority.