Stephen Gottlieb: Making America Puny, Or Is The Emperor Naked

Trump talks tough. His world strategy seems to go it alone in every context.

·         He antagonized Canada over NAFTA and Mexico over the wall.

·         He antagonized Britain by forwarding Nazi propaganda.

·         He aggravates the international refugee crisis that is roiling Europe.

·         He withdrew from world agreements to combat global warming.

·         He denies that Iran has been living up to its obligations under the Iran nuclear agreement despite the conclusions of international inspection agencies.

·         After screaming about the size of his button, quiet and patient South Korean diplomacy forced Trump to agree to pick up a phone.

·         He withdrew from Asia and the Trans-Pacific alliance and left that part of the world to China’s tender hands.

·         He abandoned an international consensus over the status of Jerusalem. Israel has demanded a great deal from us, including the antagonism of the world’s billion Muslims. But nothing is too much.

·         He doesn’t like the UN or our support of it even though it has made this country central to international everything. But who needs everything?

Tough, tough, tough, he’s talks tough alright, but he is increasingly alone. Some Americans like to say we are number one. But with mounting disputes and fewer allies, are we more than a lone tough in a bar brawl?

If we are irrelevant to the free world, who’ll care what happens to us? If our policies undermine the free world, who will come to our defense? If our only friends are strongmen who repress their own people, will they turn on us whenever it suits them? Antagonizing the world, risks being swamped by a hostile world. This is not the America of George Washington which could avoid entangling alliances while protected by the enormity of the oceans. The oceans are puny now that tiny North Korea can aim across them.

True military power is based on industrial might, not exports or raw materials. You could read the emergence of Germany and America in industrial statistics before they became world powers. But Trump hasn’t brought himself to support investments that would strengthen industrial power at home, like new and renovated infrastructure, science and education. Expanding coal mining and gas pumping, of which we already produce plenty, serve the world market, not industrial power at home, while American industries have begun a massive shift to other sources of energy. Oil and gas have been staples of weak third-world nations that have descended into catacombs of corruption – much as we have been doing – corruption spurred worldwide by extractive industries.

True world power is a combination of industrial, military and moral power. It requires leadership, engagement and understanding of the complexities of other nations’ needs and values. The alternative is a war against all in which America, no matter how much it claims, can and will be swamped by a hostile world. Trump’s bluster exposes our weakness, not our strength.

Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School. A widely recognized constitutional scholar, he has served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and was a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran. His latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics.

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