This is a guest post by Jeanne Morefield, Professor of Politics at Whitman College and a Professorial Fellow at the Institute for Social Justice, Australian Catholic University. Her scholarship works primarily at the intersection of political theory, history, and international relations with a particular focus on the political discourses of British and American imperialism. She is the author of Empires Without Imperialism: Anglo-American Decline and the Politics of Deflection(Oxford, 2014) and Covenants Without Swords: Idealist Liberalism and the Spirit of Empire (Princeton, 2005) and has published articles in journals such asPolitical Theory, History of Political Thought, Theory and Event as well as numerous chapters for edited volumes on the history of international and imperial thought. Jeanne is currently Co-President of the Association for Political Theory and is writing a book on the political thought of Edward Said.
Although it seems like an eternity, it was actually just over a month ago that those legions of Republican and Democratic pundits and professors of International Relations associated with the foreign policy establishment – in all the overlapping, echo-chamberish, reinforcing glory that Ben Rhodes termed “The Blob” – were busy issuing dire warnings about a Trump foreign policy. From realists, to liberal internationalists, to neoconservative ranters, a huge swath of foreign policy regulars committed themselves to the idea that Trump demonstrated “a predisposition to strategic recklessness” and that his espoused policies amounted to “a de facto withdrawal from the liberal world order.” Words like “crackpot,” “temperamentally unsuited,” and “the Islamic State’s dream candidate” came pouring out of a seemingly crestless wave of professorial and think-tank generated articles, op-eds, and open letters while journalists took to the Twittersphere to proclaim Trump’s foreign policy vision “dangerous,” “unprecedented,” and “terrifying.”
In Robert Kagan’s words, if elected, Trump’s “ultimately self-destructive tendencies would play out on the biggest stage in the world, with consequences at home and abroad that one can barely begin to imagine.” The mood was perhaps best captured by Jeffrey Isaac in his last ditch attempt before the election to convince the – largely fictional but rhetorically useful – hordes of leftist hold-outs to vote Democratic. While his concern was domestic, the ultimatum he presented beautifully reflected the broad sentiments of the foreign policy establishment. The choice before us was simple: “Clinton or barbarism.”
Then Trump won, the barbarians entered the gates, and in a matter of days many of these same harbingers-of-doom were confidently assuring us that, while they still had a few doubts, all would be well on the foreign policy front.
Not surprisingly, Western Civilization’s most dogged empire-whisperer Niall Ferguson – crowing with satisfaction at his prescient decision not to couch his pre-election warnings about Trump as support for Clinton – jumped quickly on the Trump-possibility bandwagon. Not only, he argued, did it appear that Trump’s foreign policy limned more closely to that of Ferguson’s outsized hero (Henry Kissinger), it could potentially shore up liberalism’s core principles by more forcefully opposing the oppression of women, gays, and people of different faiths in the name of Islam.