[Joseph S. Nye. Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump. Oxford University Press. New York, 2020. 254 pp.]
review / Emili J. Blasco
The question that serves as degree scroll for the new book by Jospeh Nye, known to the public at large for having coined the term "the question of the future". soft powerThe author's argument is not so much a concession to secularist thinking as a lack of boldness in asserting from entrance the desirability of ethical reflection in foreign policy decisions, an importance that, despite the question mark, one senses is defended by the author.
In fact, the question itself is a question core topic at discipline of International Office. A common approach is to see the world scenario as a conjunction of competing states, in an anarchic dynamic where the law of the strongest prevails. Internally, the state can be driven by criteria of the common good, addressing the different needs of its inhabitants and making decisions at the national or local level through democratic processes. But beyond one's own borders, does the legitimacy granted by one's own electorate not require the ruler above all to guarantee the security of his citizens against external threats and to safeguard the national interest against that of other states?
The fact that the state is the basic subject in the International Office of course marks a dividing line between the two spheres. And so the question of whether the ethical discernment that is demanded of the mandatary in the internal sphere should also be demanded of him in the external sphere is fully relevant.
Only from extreme positions that consider the state to be a wolf for the state, applying the Hobbesian principle to international order (disorder) (and here there would be no supra-state to discipline this tendency of the state-individual), can it be argued that amorality rules all against all. On a lower rung is so-called offensive realism, and on a lower rung, defensive realism.
Nye, a scholar of International Office, believes that realist theory is a good starting point for any president when it comes to defining a country's foreign policy, given that he must be guided especially by the ethics of responsibility, as he fulfils a 'fiduciary role'. "A president's first moral duty is that of a trustee, and this begins with ensuring the survival and security of the democracy that elected him. But from here it should also be explored what possibilities exist for partnership and international mutual benefit, not closing the door on entrance to approaches of liberalism or cosmopolitanism.
"When survival is at stake, realism is a necessary but not sufficient basis for a moral foreign policy," says Nye, for whom it is a "question of Degree". "Given that there is never perfect security, the moral question is what Degree security should be assured before other values such as welfare, identity or rights are part of a president's foreign policy". He adds: "Many of the most difficult moral decisions are not all-or-nothing [...] The difficult moral decisions are in the middle. While it is important to be cautious about the dangers of a slippery slope, moral decisions rest on matching ends and means with each other'. He concludes that "the maintenance of international institutions and regimes is part of moral leadership".
From the very beginning of the book, Nye uses the three conditions that have traditionally been used in moral treatises to judge an action as ethically good: that the intention, the means and the consequences are good at the same time.
Using these three yardsticks, the author analyses the foreign policy of each of the US presidents since World War II and establishes a final ranking that combines both the morality of their actions on the international stage and the effectiveness of their policy (because an ethical foreign policy can be the case, but one that does little to further a country's national interests).
Thus, of the fourteen presidents, he considers that the four with the best grade in that combination are Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Bush I. In the middle he places Reagan, Kennedy, Ford, Carter, Clinton and Obama. And as the four worst he lists Johnson, Nixon, Bush II and ("tentatively incomplete") Trump. Having done the ranking, Nye warns that he may have given precedence to the Democratic administrations he worked for.
The book is a quick overview of the foreign policy of each presidency, highlighting the presidents' doctrines, their successes and failures (as well as examining the ethical component), so it is also interesting as a succinct history of the US International Office of the last eighty years.
The aspect of morality perhaps lacks a more academic foundation, as it is an discipline especially studied since the scholastic era. But Nye's purpose was not intended to delve into this subject, but to offer a brief study of applied morality.
Reading Nye is always thought-provoking. Among his other reflections might be the idea of the new prospects that would have opened up for the world if particularly propitious times had coincided in the calendar. In particular, he suggests that if Brezhnev and his gerontocratic generation had left earlier and the USSR had been beset by severe economic problems earlier, Gorbachev might have come to power at the same time as Carter's presidency; what they would have achieved together is, however, a matter for speculation.
[I. H. Daalder & James M. Lindsay, The Empty Throne. America's Abdication of Global Leadership. Public Affairs. New York, 2018. 256 p.]
review / Salvador Sánchez Tapia
The arrival of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States in January 2017 has unleashed an important flow publishing house that continues to this day, and in which numerous pens question, in substance and form, the new tenant of the White House from different angles.
In this case, two authors from the field of American think tanks , close to Barack Obama - one of them served during his presidency as US ambassador to NATO - offer us a very critical view of President Trump and his management at the head of the US executive branch. With the solid support of numerous quotes, statements and testimonies collected from the media, and in an agile and attractive language, they compose the portrait of an erratic, ignorant - in one passage they highlight without palliation his "ignorance on many issues, his unwillingness to accept advice from others, his impulsiveness, and his lack of critical thinking skills" -, arrogant and irresponsible president.
The authors of The Empty Throne argue that President Trump's deeds and words show how he has broken with the traditional line of U.S. foreign policy since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, based on exercising leadership oriented toward collective security, opening global markets, and promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, and which has result greatly benefited the United States. Trump, they argue, would have abdicated that leadership, embracing instead another purely transactional policy, made by a simple calculation of interest.
This new way of conceiving international politics, based on the logic of competition and domination, would be justified by the Trump administration with the argument that the old one has been highly pernicious for the United States, since it has allowed friends and allies to obtain important profits at the expense of American prosperity.
Paraphrasing Trump's America First campaign slogan, the authors argue that this new policy will result, rather, in an America Alone, and will instead benefit China, assuming that it will be to China that nations will look for a new leader.
To support their thesis , the authors take a look at the management of Donald Trump in the year and a half between his inauguration in early 2017 and the book's publication date in 2018. In their argument they review the management of presidents the nation has had since the end of World War II, and compare it to that put on internship by the Trump administration.
An important part of the criticism is directed at the controversial presidential style displayed by Donald Trump, exhibited even before the elections, and which is evident in facts such as the withdrawal of the label customary in the world of the International Office, especially hurtful in his relations with friends and allies; the lack of interest shown in coordinating with the Obama administration an orderly transition, or the making of certain decisions against his national security team or, even, without consulting its members.
Not to acknowledge these facts would be to deny the evidence and question the inescapable reality of the unease that this new way of dealing with nations with which the United States shares so many interests and values, such as those of the European Union, or others such as Japan, Canada or Australia, firm allies of the United States for decades, produces in many people. However, there is room for some criticism of the arguments.
First of all, and leaving aside the lack of time perspective to make a evaluation final of Trump's presidency, the authors make a comparison between the first year and a half of the current president's term and those of all his predecessors since the end of World War II to demonstrate Trump's return to the America First policy prevailing until Roosevelt. This contrast requires certain nuances because, based on the common denominator of the international leadership strategy that all of Trump's predecessors practiced, the country experienced in this time moments of greater unilateralism such as that of George W. Bush's first term, along with others of lesser global presence of the country such as, perhaps, those of the presidencies of Eisenhower, Ford, Carter and, even, Obama.
In Obama's case, moreover, the substantive differences with Trump are not as great as they seem. Both presidents are trying to manage, in order to mitigate, the loss of relative American power caused by the long years of military presence in the Middle East and the rise of China. It is not that Trump believes that the United States should abandon the ideas of global leadership and multinational interaction; in fact, while he is accused of leaving traditional allies to their fate, he is reproached for his rapprochement, almost complicity, with others such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Rather, what he intends is to exercise leadership, but, of course, dictating his conditions so that they are favorable to the United States. From inspirational leadership to leadership by imposition.
The question is, is it possible to maintain leadership under these conditions? According to the authors, no. In fact, as a consequence of this "abdication of American leadership", they offer two scenarios: the return to a world in which no nation leads, or the emergence of another nation - China, obviously - that will fill the vacuum created by this abdication.
The authors do not consider a third option: that of traditional allies adapting to the new style of leadership, albeit reluctantly, out of necessity, and in the confidence that one day, the Trump presidency will be history. This idea would be consistent with the premise set out in the book, and with which we concur, that American leadership remains indispensable, and with the very recognition at the end of the book that there is some substance to the grievances that Trump presents and that the president's attitude is leading many of America's friends and allies to reconsider their defense spending, to rethink the rules of international trade to make them more palatable to America, and to take a more active role in resolving major global challenges.
Time will tell which of the three options will prevail. Even considering the challenges of attention with the current White House incumbent, the United States remains bound to its traditional partners and allies by a dense network of common interests and, above all, shared values that transcend individuals and will outlast them.