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‘America First’ Enters Its Most Combustible Moment

TU Curmudgeon

B.A. (Sarc), LLb. (Lex Sarcasus), PhD (Sarc.)
DP Veteran
Mar 7, 2018
Reaction score
Lower Mainland of BC
Political Leaning
From The Atlantic

‘America First’ Enters Its Most Combustible Moment

The months before and after a presidential election are particularly fragile for foreign policy. Each of the five presidents I served understood, as did his team, the weight of this time. Politics and legacy were always front of mind. They were all also conscious of the ways they could help pave an easier path for their successors. They all ultimately put country over party. That won’t be the case with Donald Trump. If the next 150 days turn out to be Trump’s final days in office, he could still wreak a lot of havoc on American foreign policy.

As a young National Security Council staffer, I sat in the Oval Office in December 1988 as Ronald Reagan—the fireplace crackling behind him—authorized the first-ever U.S. dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization. He saw it, at least in part, as a way to spare his successor, then–Vice President George H. W. Bush, from spending precious political capital early in his administration on an essential, if controversial, step toward Middle East peacemaking.

At the end of the George H. W. Bush administration, in January 1993, as the head of the State Department’s policy-planning staff, I wrote a long transition memorandum for incoming Secretary of State Warren Christopher. That memo was not appreciably different from a draft I had written six months earlier, prematurely titled “A Foreign Policy for the Second Bush Term.” The point of the exercise was less the title, or even the content, than the commitment to a responsible transition and the national interest.

In the summer of 2008, serving in the No. 3 position in the State Department, I accompanied Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Oval Office to discuss with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney whether the administration should reverse its policy and join our international partners at the negotiating table with Iran. No fire burned in the fireplace that July day, but the same unspoken sense of responsibility pervaded the room. The issue was not only whether the decision made sense on its merits, but also whether it would help strengthen a diplomatic legacy and create a little bit more room for the next administration to maneuver. Bush made his choice briskly and authorized me to travel to Geneva for the talks. Cheney objected, arguing that we should not reward Iranian misbehavior. “Dick,” President Bush said with a wave of his hand, “I’m okay with this, and I’ve made up my mind.”

I can’t imagine Trump taking the notion of a responsible transition seriously. His former national security adviser, John Bolton, has argued that the president cannot see any foreign-policy question in terms other than his reelection prospects or ego gratification.


A personal opinion from someone who should be in the position to know what they are talking about and worth reading through to the end.
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