Could America return to isolationism?

US historian Bacevich: "It doesn't matter what Trump says"

DEFAULT: Is the corona crisis reinforcing the isolationist trend in the USA under Donald Trump?

Bacevich: I disagree with the premise. If you measure it by the relationships in NATO, the size of the military budget, the stationing of American troops in the world, I would say that there is next to no evidence of a withdrawal from world events. If we take the specific example of the Middle East, it is fair to acknowledge that the post-9/11 policy has produced disastrous results. The chaos that we created in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya can hardly be classified as a political success. So when people look for ways to put an end to it, I just see prudence in that. First Barack Obama, then Donald Trump. The rhetoric differs, the justifications differ - but in each case it's about finding a way to get out of the mess. If that is a withdrawal, it is a withdrawal as a rational response to failure.

DEFAULT: As a presidential candidate, Trump has declared NATO superfluous. Wasn't that isolationist?

Bacevich: This is based on Trump's irresponsible rhetoric. But we have not left NATO. An American army brigade is now stationed in Poland, and American planes guard the airspace over the Baltic States. All in all, it is a smaller version of the military presence that the US established in Western Europe during the Cold War. It's not a retreat.

Certainly, the Trump administration has left the Paris Agreement, which everyone, with the exception of Trump's supporters, thinks is dumber than stupid. Joe Biden has promised that we will rejoin when he is president. Trump has renounced the nuclear deal with Iran - an idiocy. But evidence that the US is returning to isolationism is limited to these strange, impulsive decisions by the president.

DEFAULT: So what does he want?

Bacevich: If someone asked me to describe Trump's security strategy, the answer would be: There are none. What there are are some firm beliefs. For one thing, he believes America is being ripped off all the time - be it in trade, be it in security arrangements. Second, he seems to believe that he can correct imbalances by threatening. This is of course extremely short-sighted, a serious mistake. But otherwise there isn't much he really believes in. And we see little evidence that he pulls off what he proclaims. Our trade deficit is still huge.

We're making too much of Trump, he doesn't deserve the attention we give him. Take its daily press conferences during the epidemic. The US media goes nuts every time. It would be more correct not to transfer that at all. What he says is often demagogic and wrong. It's like a car wreck after an accident. You just can't look away.

DEFAULT: When he announced that he would cancel the funds for the World Health Organization (WHO): Was it not clear that he was serious about going it alone?

Bacevich: Let's see where we are in six months. Will he stick to his stance? Will his subordinates talk him out of it? His attention span seems pretty limited. Far be it from me to dismiss the matter with the WHO. Perhaps, from the point of view of Europeans, it was actually the famous drop that broke the barrel.

DEFAULT: Trump blames China for the corona pandemic. And he accuses his rival Joe Biden of taking a cuddle course with Beijing. Is that just an election campaign?

Bacevich: I don't think what Trump says about China matters that much. But I believe that our political class is starting to rethink its relationship with China. When Nixon traveled to China in 1972 and made the country a de facto ally in a duel with the Soviet Union, when China later adopted capitalism, albeit one without democracy, a partnership began from which both sides initially benefited. US consumers benefited from cheap Chinese goods. China achieved phenomenal growth rates. It was a mutual benefit relationship.

DEFAULT: What is changing now?

Bacevich: There are more and more doubts. On the one hand, the US is trying to breathe new life into its manufacturing industry in order to be less dependent on imports. On the other hand, nervousness is increasing because China is rapidly modernizing its military and flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. In the Covid-19 pandemic, there is also the question of whether the Chinese government lied. So, regardless of Trump, a process of reassessment is underway within the political elite. What should our relationship with Beijing look like in the future? Can we be partners? Are we opponents? What are China's goals? What is the correct answer? All of that is up for debate. We should see fundamental changes.

DEFAULT: Does that also apply if the next US President should be Joe Biden?

Bacevich: This process of questioning things will continue then. (Frank Herrmann, 5.5.2020)

Andrew J. Bacevic (72), Professor of International Relations at Boston University, is one of the most renowned US historians.

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