Who is advising Donald Trump on foreign policy? Among both the allies and adversaries of the United States, diplomats are now racing to answer this question.
Some time back, the Foreign Ministry delivered a single photograph to a key figure at the prime minister’s office. A high-ranking official from the ministry explained to the government’s top leaders that the five people shown with Trump in the photograph were his foreign policy advisers. He went on to note that none of the staff at the Japanese Embassy in Washington were acquainted with them: “They are not the usual type of adviser,” the official said.
His point was that, because Trump’s advisers do not belong to the American foreign policy establishment, there had previously been no need to ascertain their identity.
Many foreign policy experts in the Republican Party are worried how they should respond if they get an offer to become foreign policy advisers to Trump. They are afraid that, much like the early Nazi collaborators, they may end up being tainted by association — or ostracized by fellow members of the foreign policy establishment.
What is most alarming to them is that the very existence of an “establishment” of foreign policy makers is viewed with suspicion by the American public. Within the Republican Party, some — including George H.W. Bush and his former National Security adviser, Brent Scowcroft — opposed the Iraq War, but the majority of the party — especially its neoconservative or “neocon” contingent — became completely absorbed with the war effort. They were discredited once the Iraq War ended up being a tragic mistake.
The U.S. public resents the previous Republican administration of George W. Bush for embarking on the war in Iraq — which can be described as the greatest folly of the century so far — with the endorsement of the foreign policy establishment in Washington. This is one factor behind the support for Trump.
This is also one reason for the unpopularity of the Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, who, as a senator, bowed to the neocons and supported the war in Iraq.
By contrast, as a senator Barack Obama squarely opposed the Iraq War. Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War is the origin of his later decision as president not to intervene with ground forces in the Syrian crisis, as well as the “Obama doctrine,” which is based upon the principle of self-restraint. Obama’s distrust of the foreign policy establishment’s “playbook” reached its apex when the president came under broad criticism from the experts for his decision not to intervene in Syria.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, has referred to the American foreign policy establishment as “the Blob.” According to international relations scholar Stephen Walt, the problem lies with the policy establishment’s “credibility addiction.”
What Walt means by this is that the American foreign policy establishment cannot break away from its obsessive fears that, should the U.S. waver ever so slightly in times of international crisis, its credibility will be thrown into doubt, thereby weakening the foundations of peace and stability worldwide.
To be sure, this credibility addiction can easily perpetuate a rigid foreign policy stance, which tends to seek preserving the status quo. However, if this attack upon the American foreign policy establishment is taken too far, we risk destroying the bipartisan support for internationalism that the U.S. has fostered throughout the postwar period.
“Credibility” is the basis for “predictability,” the essential stabilizing factor in international politics. International politics would be destabilized if major powers began to employ the type of guerrilla diplomacy that uses “unpredictability” as a weapon — an approach preferred by China and espoused by Trump.
The postwar international order (the Bretton Woods system), which has supported the period’s long-term peace, was conceived of by a group of skilled and cosmopolitan-minded Wall Street financiers. Their endeavor received the support and cooperation of lawyers, scholars, journalists and think tanks.
This establishment also offered bipartisan support for postwar U.S.-Japan relations. When the U.S.-Japan alliance began to go adrift after the end of the Cold War, Democrat Joseph Nye and Republican Richard Armitage both proved instrumental in reaffirming and strengthening the alliance, redefining its post-Cold War role and mission. More recently they have been succeeded in this endeavor by Kurt Campbell (Democrat) and Michael Green (Republican).
The U.S. is currently confronting a model crisis. The Iraq War, the Lehman shock and the astounding popularity of anti-mainstream candidates Trump and Bernie Sanders have called American political and economic models into question. And while Silicon Valley is skilled at “disruption,” it has been unable to articulate a new model for a stable international order.
The American foreign policy establishment is responsible for plunging the country into two tragic, protracted conflicts: the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. In both cases, an ignorance of world history and geography — in other words, a lack of geopolitical insight — was to blame. Yet throughout the postwar period, the U.S. foreign policy establishment has maintained its ideal of acting according to an “enlightened national interest,” and this has contributed to peace and stability worldwide. No country has benefited more in this regard than Japan.
When the U.S. grappled with an earlier model crisis in early 1930s, during the Great Depression, Japan’s aspirations to emulate the U.S. withered, and the influence of people advocating closer ties with the U.S. declined precipitously. Today we must prevent history from repeating itself. In fact, now more than ever Japan must voice its support and encouragement for the American foreign policy establishment.
Yoichi Funabashi is chairman of the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation and former editor-in-chief of the Asahi Shimbun. This is a translation of his column in the monthly Bungei Shunju. The foundation has published a new book, “Sengo Hoshu wa Owatta Noka — Jiminto Seiji no Kiki” (The End of Japan’s Moderate Conservatism).
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.