No one should still be in doubt that Donald Trump’s “America first” policy is becoming more evident in his word and deed. But while many Americans may have reason to doubt whether that is the right foreign policy direction to take, other nations, including the Philippines, may find something to welcome from Trump’s departure from the old US mission of extending its brand of democracy to the rest of the world.
A generation of Filipinos still remembers how America annexed the Philippines through conquest and purchase.
But last week, outside of his tirades against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Trump made a significant point for the nations of the world in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly: his ringing endorsement of the sovereignty and independence of nations as the basis for a better and more peaceful world.
Trump said: “Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity and peace for themselves and for the world.
“We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government. But we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”
He then declared: “In America, we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to watch.
“In America, the people govern, the people rule, and the people are sovereign. I was elected not to take power, but to give power to the American people, where it belongs.
“In foreign affairs, we are renewing this founding principle of sovereignty. Our government’s first duty is to its people, to our citizens – to serve their needs, to ensure their safety, to preserve their rights, and to defend their values.
“All responsible leaders have an obligation to serve their own citizens, and the nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition.
“But in fulfilling our obligations to our own nations, we must also realize that it’s in everyone’s interest to seek a future where all nations can be sovereign, prosperous, and secure.”
What is different about this new orientation of the US is the return to the nation-state as the vehicle for accomplishing ambitious and noble goals for all mankind.
Former assistant to the US President for Communications Patrick J. Buchanan gave his own take on Trump’s shift: Trump is saying with John Quincy Adams that our mission is not to go “abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” but to “put America first.” He is repudiating the New World Order of Bush I, the democracy crusades of the neocons of the Bush II era, and the globaloney of Obama.
Referring to Rex Tillerson’s directive last week to his department to rewrite its mission statement and drop the bit about making the world democratic, Buchanan said: “Tillerson should stand his ground. For America has no divinely mandated mission to democratize mankind… If we do not cure ourselves of this interventionist addiction, it will end our republic.“
Reflected in Trump’s position is an explicit refusal of the policy of internationalism and multilateralism. It reflects a new realism in appreciating the new challenges and dangers in the world, like terrorism and territorial disputes.
Back to his speech: “If we desire to lift up our citizens, if we aspire to the approval of history, then we must fulfill our sovereign duties to the people we faithfully represent. We must protect our nations, their interests, and their futures.
“We must reject threats to sovereignty, from the Ukraine to the South China Sea. We must uphold respect for law, respect for borders, and respect for culture, and the peaceful engagement these allow. And just as the founders of this body intended, we must work together and confront together those who threaten us with chaos, turmoil, and terror.”
In summary, America under Trump will not try to make all nations look like it. That message is enormously reassuring and worth supporting.