Upside-down aphorisms

Remember the old line “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”?

Trump is turning that on its head, cozying up to the likes of Putin, Xi Jinping, Rodrigo Duterte and now Kim Jong-un while disrespecting our G-7 and NATO allies. This is very strange behavior on the part of a United States President, but it’s also very dangerous. It’s putting at risk a web of interlocking systems of international rules and norms that have kept the peace among great powers for seventy years.

That’s what Kori Schake, the deputy director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says in an Op-Ed published today in the NY Times. Most of us who reached adulthood during those seventy years know this implicitly, but it’s useful to be reminded.

What are some of the benefits America has accrued thanks to these systems?

Beginning in the wreckage of World War II, America established a set of global norms that solidified its position atop a rules-based international system. These included promoting democracy, making enduring commitments to countries that share its values, protecting allies, advancing free trade and building institutions and patterns of behavior that legitimize American power by giving less powerful countries a say.

That last point is critical, and it is the genius of the system. America benefits from supporting others.


America doesn’t always get it right; often it’s clumsy, fails to live up to its ideology, and breaks its own rules.

But the results speak for themselves. It has been over 70 years since the last great-power conflict. Democracies fight lots of wars, but they do not fight other democracies. The wars they fight are about enlarging the perimeter of security and prosperity, expanding and consolidating the liberal order.

The global economy has grown about sevenfold since 1960, adjusted for inflation.

Now, we know that some in America don’t believe that because they haven’t fully shared in the prosperity that implies (although I wonder whether they recognize how far their parents might have come from their beginnings). I suspect those people are looking only at their own circumstances, which is understandable. Their circumstances need to be addressed (and the Democratic candidate in 2016 had many ideas about doing just that). Unfortunately, they listened to the election winner’s siren song of grievance instead. The results may be calamitous.

Mr. Trump’s attack on the liberal world order is not just about the price America pays for it. He seems bent on destroying the friendships and respect that bind America and its allies. If he succeeds, America will be seen as — and may even become — no different from Russia and China, and countries will have no reason to assist America’s efforts rather than theirs.

That’s not a country I could be proud of.