WASHINGTON, March 30, 2016 – Under U.S. leadership, following the end of World War II, a semblance of order was restored to the world. Through NATO, we and our European allies maintained peace on the Continent , working to bring Communism to an end.
In Asia, our former adversary, Japan, became a thriving democracy, and through a series of alliances with countries such as South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines, we kept Communist China from expanding. Our military forces in Europe and Asia made it clear that an attack upon our allies, was an attack upon us.
At the present time, we live in a troubled world. While we face no adversary such as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, we and our allies are the targets of radical Islamic terrorism. Recent assaults in Belgium, Paris, San Bernardino, Turkey and Pakistan indicate that we face a growing threat.
The world is troubled enough without having presidential candidates speaking loosely, apparently with little thought, about nuclear weapons and ending the NATO alliance.
When he is not insulting his opponents, Donald Trump has said some very troubling things about nuclear weapons. He has suggested that Japan and South Korea should take more responsibility for their defense, including possibly developing their own nuclear weapons. In an interview with The New York Times, Trump said he would be open to withdrawing American forces from Japan and South Korea if those countries were not willing to pay more to keep those forces stationed there.
Trump suggested that he might support Japan and South Korea in developing nuclear arsenals of their own rather than relying on the U.S. “At some point, we cannot be the policeman of the world,” he said. “And unfortunately, we have a nuclear world now.” There are concerns that this might lead to an arms race, with Japan and South Korea building nuclear weapons to counteract the threat from North Korea. Right-wing groups in Japan welcomed Trump’s words and support loosening constitutional restrictions on the military. Toru Hashimoto, a former mayor of Osaka, and founder of the right-leaning Japan Innovation Party said, “Trump’s rise is a big chance for Japan to change the peace-addled notion that America will protect us.”
Wen Wei Po, a Hong Kong newspaper, declared:
“Trump’s comments not only completely violate the international consensus of preventing the expansion of nuclear weapons, but use long-ago abandoned Cold War thinking to challenge the trend of peaceful development and harm stability in East Asia.”
In Trump’s view, American power may have underwritten global security and averted nuclear war for more than seventy years, but we can no longer afford to be a world leader because we are a “poor country.” He states: “We will not be ripped off any more” because “we don’t have any money.”
How does Trump come to this conclusion? In 1950, the U.S. economy produced $2.2 trillion in goods and services as measured by inflation-adjusted “2009 dollars.” In 2015, the U.S. gross domestic product was $16.3 billion, or more than 7 times greater. Eliminating any boost from population growth, this still leaves today’s economy nearly four times larger than its 1950 counterpart.
It is true, of course, that U.S. foreign policy has taken many negative and disastrous turns. The terrorist threat we face from ISIS at the present time is, in many respects, a result of U.S. policy errors and missteps. The war in Iraq was clearly a mistake of monumental proportions. Even if there were a legitimate reason for invading Iraq, the way we did it guaranteed failure.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted on a “light footprint” strategy which meant that the number of troops available to contain the predictable chaos following the removal of Saddam Hussein was completely inadequate. This was compounded by disbanding the Iraqi army and then dismantling the Ba’ath party. It was in the ensuing years of sectarian bloodletting that Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to ISIS emerged under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Later, under President Obama, we presided over the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafy, a man no longer a threat, without having any idea of what would come next. What has come next is ISIS, chaos and an unprecedented refugee crisis.
It would not be unusual for Americans, in response to such dramatic failures in policy, to seek to retreat from our leadership role in the world. This is what Donald Trump is suggesting. What it overlooks is how fragile a thing world order is. Through NATO and our other alliances we have led a reasonably stable world order since the end of World War II.
Nuclear weapons have proliferated to nations such as India, Israel and Pakistan, but, so far, not beyond. No one has used such weapons since World War II.
Do we really want to open the door to a nuclear arms race, as Donald Trump suggests?
We are told by some of Mr. Trump’s supporters that the so-called “elites” are against him, but he has the popular support of the voters. In fact, the founding fathers feared where mass democracy might lead. That is why they wrote a Constitution which limited government power and divided it. Rather than viewing man and government in positive terms, they had almost precisely the opposite view.
John Adams declared that,
“Whoever would found a state and make proper laws for the government of it must presume that all men are bad by nature. We may appeal to every page of history we have hitherto turned over for proofs irrefragable, that the people, when they have been unchecked, have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous and cruel as any king or senate possessed of uncontrollable power…All projects of government, formed upon a supposition of continued vigilance, sagacity, and virtue, firmness of the people when possessed of the exercise of supreme power are cheats and delusions.”
“The fundamental article of my political creed is that despotism or unlimited sovereignty, or absolute power, is the same in a majority of a popular assembly, an aristocratical council, an oligarchical junto and a single emperor. Equally, bloody, arbitrary, cruel, and in every respect diabolical.”
Donald Trump often speaks of building walls, imposing tariffs and “making deals” as if, were he to be elected president, he would be on his own, not requiring legislative approval from Congress or, if challenged, approval by the U.S. Supreme Court. An American president has power, perhaps too much as the office has evolved, but it is still severely limited.
The precarious state of the world will not be improved by loose talk about nuclear proliferation and ending NATO. Coming from one such as Donald Trump who, it seems, has given little serious thought to these matters, such propositions nevertheless are taken seriously because of his current front-runner status.
The Republican Party, together with the Democrats, were co-architects of the security structure of the post World War II world. Under Republicans and Democrats, it has provided greater stability than many thought possible. Mistakes have been made and alterations may be called for.
But to retreat to isolationism would be to make our world even more dangerous and unpredictable.