Donald Trump spoke seriously about his foreign policy views on March 21, and in rapid fire succession brought up his visions about what has been branded by public opinion as American isolationism. He questions NATO’s importance to the United States and believes that it is unnecessary for the United States to maintain military muscle in Asia. He complains that European countries, Japan, Korea and American allies in the Middle East have unfairly benefited from military protection. The United States has paid much but hasn’t been fairly compensated, and has only been reimbursed for a small amount. His words again caused a great uproar.
The U.S. foreign policy expert Thomas Wright cried out in alarm that Trump’s suggestion “is no different from the liquidation of the order of the free world,” and says that it would “let the dreams of Russia and China come true.”*
The United States has always supported the social basis for isolationism — populism being the source of isolationism’s value. But since World War II, extreme isolationism in the United States has been marginalized and hasn’t had a super spokesperson like Trump in decades.
But Trump did not come out from under a rock. He is a product of the United States’ succession of problems and challenges. He continuously says that the United States is not the strongest or richest country and no longer holds its former position, and although he has exaggerated the problem, the changes in the world are real. The United States is still the strongest and the richest, but it is disdainful over the fact that its absolute worldwide superiority is rapidly diminishing. It is an uncontested fact that the U.S. is slowly becoming unable to hold onto its court of luxurious hegemony.
Trump has no scruples in discarding political correctness when he throws a pile of words like daggers onto the table, ready to stab anyone in the back and rendering U.S. allies, U.S. competitors and opponents — including the domestic U.S. elite — unable to make heads or tails of the situation. From the global perspective, the most recent dagger that he has stuck into the table is [the question of] whether or not the United States still has the power to be the world's leader.
First of all, “United States world leadership” is a proposition instilled in the world by the United States. If we take the average person’s notion of a leader, then the United States has indeed accomplished some positive things. For example, it has upheld peace for global maritime transportation and made contributions to nuclear nonproliferation; no new world wars have occurred after World War II — all things related to the United States' role as the world’s big brother.
But the United States is a leader that has seriously abused its power, has been extremely protectionist, and has had misunderstandings with the world and with itself time and time again. After the first Gulf War, the several other wars that United States leaders [entered] were supported by results that turned out to be correct; NATO, under the control of the United States, expanded east. Its pivot to Asia strategy has caused new international tension, but Washington, D.C. doesn’t have the power to guide the direction in which this tension will travel.
The United States is still the world’s greatest center for technological innovation and the world’s greatest consumer of world culture. It also continues to be the commanding point for Western political ideologies. Its hard power, especially military power, is in maintaining a position that cannot be challenged; its power to control finances and its Internet might all help to maintain its hegemony from different perspectives.
However, the most important thing is that the world is changing. Multi-polarization or even depolarization is becoming less and less merely theoretical prattle. Within society, the influence of traditional power has been challenged on different levels and there is an obvious dispersion of it. New power, including that of individuals, has played roles that were unthinkable before. Similar situations have come about on the world’s stage. The right of developing countries and mid-level countries to speak out seems to be rising, but it is difficult to obtain the same level of hegemony as the U.S. by making the equivalent financial investments that the United States has made in the past.
In this world, prices are rising everywhere; food and home renovation have all become expensive, making it more expensive for other countries to do what they're told by the U.S. After World War II, the United States was ostentatious in spending money on the Marshall Plan and taking on the revitalization of Western Europe. Now, the U.S. isn’t even willing to allocate money to rebuild Iraq. Moreover, it not only needs to deliver a completely new Iraq, but an all new Libya and Afghanistan. The only way the world will continue to “serve” the U.S. is for the U.S. to subsidize modernized life in the countries that obey the West, and create there a western style democracy.
Washington, D.C. has already counted its debts with its allies, and not only does it not want to allocate money for its pivot to Asia policy, but it is even pondering if it can make a profit off of Asian countries through the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula, it is basically inciting the people and fighting against them. How will this kind of leadership come together?
The United States wants to continue to lead the world, so it must understand the world objectively, repair its own moral conduct and profit from mutual benefit with other countries. If not, then I’d ask the American elite to have another debate with Trump.
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quotation could be independently verified.