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Continuing somewhat on last Saturday’s post, I’ve been thinking more about the war in Ukraine this week, specifically pondering how surreal it all seems. Obviously, it’s quite real for the people in the Ukraine and Russia, as well as the various volunteers from around the globe who have enlisted to fight on behalf of the Ukraine.
But part of the surrealism—at least for those of us, like yours portly, who are swaddled in luxurious comfort here in the United States—is that we didn’t have to worry about international relations and foreign policy in any immediate way for at least four years. At any rate, during the Trump administration, foreign policy largely receded from the national consciousness as a major concern.
Sure, there was the constant banging-on about “Russian collusion” and interfering in the Ukraine, and early hysterical rumors of nuclear war with North Korea. But President Trump silenced the Norks, the Russkies, and even, to some extent, the ChiComs. I was dismayed, initially, by the rocket launch in Syria early in Trump’s administration, but in retrospect it seems like that was a convincing show of force to the Russians (who have all sorts of interests in Syria).
After that—and after dropping some big ol’ bombs in Afghanistan, etc.—foreign policy seemed like an afterthought. For years that had dominated headlines and—given my own interest in the topic—my mental conception of America’s role in the world.
Perhaps one of the great overlooked achievements of the Trump administration is that it achieved—however fleetingly—a semblance of global order and peace, so much that we didn’t have to think about foreign policy and international relations in any deep, consistent way for a few years. I have no doubt that a second Trump term would not have seen the current escalation in the Ukraine.
A bold claim, but I think it’s accurate. Regardless, the focus of this post is on that brief moment when the woes of the rest of the world seemed distant, and the United States could focus instead on its own domestic woes (of which there are many). Now that that moment—gauzy and illusory as it turned out to be—has passed, we may be facing some profoundly existential questions about the future of the global order.