stephen wertheim

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Delusions of Dominance: Biden Can’t Restore American Primacy—And Shouldn’t Try

 

Foreign Affairs, January 25, 2021

 

The Biden administration enters office intending to restore American primacy, not preside over its destruction. Yet realities will intrude. As Biden addresses urgent priorities in his early days—repairing democracy at home, ending a mass-killing pandemic, averting climate chaos, rescuing U.S. diplomacy—he will find, if he takes a hard look, that the burdens of primacy contradict his own goals at every turn.

 

 

Biden Wants to Convene an International ‘Summit for Democracy.’ He Shouldn’t

 

The Guardian, December 22, 2020 (with David Adler)

 

The commanding crises of our century cannot be found in the conflict between countries. Instead, they are common among them. The American people will be secured not by any “complete victory” over external adversaries but by a sustained commitment to improve life in the US and cooperate as a partner across traditional boundaries of U.S. diplomacy.

 

 

Say No, Joe: On U.S. Foreign Policy, There’s No Going Back to the Status Quo

 

Foreign Policy, November 25, 2020 (with Benjamin H. Friedman)

 

As he left office, President Barack Obama criticized what he called “the Washington playbook” for reflexively prescribing “militarized responses” to world events. Obama was right then and is only more so today. Overextended abroad, the United States has urgent needs at home, starting with recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. But the old playbook will invariably reappear, given its popularity among foreign-policy hands and, more fundamentally, the temptation U.S. power creates to meddle and boss others around. When this happens, the Biden administration will need to be ready to say no — no to unnecessary wars and no to further U.S. military overstretch.

 

interview on Majority Report

 

 

America Has No Reason to Be So Powerful

 

The New York Times, October 16, 2020, A29

 

Eighty years ago, as it prepared to enter World War II, the United States made a fateful choice not only to pursue military supremacy but also to sustain it long into the future. This decision, tragic even then, has become immobilizing now. It has caused America’s leaders to see armed dominance as the only way the United States can relate to the world.

 

arabic edition  /  chinese edition (simplified)  /  chinese edition (traditional)  /  turkish edition

 

Quincy Institute video  /  interview on Background Briefing

 

 

How Trump Brought Home the Endless War

 

The New Yorker, October 1, 2020

 

As the war on terror loses its emotive force, American leaders cast fellow-citizens as akin to foreign enemies. Senators call for an “overwhelming show of force” against protesters with the knee-jerk zeal once reserved for distant peoples. Endless war has not merely come home; endless war increasingly is home. American politics has taken on the qualities of American wars.

 

 

Ending America’s Forever Wars: How the U.S. Leads the Postwar World

 

New Statesman, September 23, 2020, 13-14

 

This year, for the first time ever, the presidential nominees of both major parties are promising to end the “endless” or “forever” wars in which they acknowledge their nation to be engaged.

 

turkish edition

 

interview on New Statesman World

 

 

The American Public Wants Less War. Can Joe Biden Deliver?

 

The Guardian, August 18, 2020

 

Biden is not the future of the Democratic party, and everyone knows it, including him. Those who seek realism and restraint in military affairs, and peaceful engagement on common challenges, should see his potential administration as an invitation.

 

spanish edition

 

 

El Precio de la Primacía

 

Foreign Affairs Latinoamérica, Julio-Septiembre 2020, 137-146

 

La estrategia de Washington posterior a la Guerra Fría ha fracasado. Estados Unidos debe abandonar la cruzada por la primacía armamentista en aras de proteger el planeta y crear más oportunidades para más personas.

 

 

COVID-19 and the Costs of Military Primacy

 

RealClear Defense, July 22, 2020

 

Because their leaders prize armed dominance, the American people are unsafe where they live and work.

 

 

Can the Democrats Avoid Trump’s China Trap?

 

The New York Times, May 11, 2020, A27 (with Rachel Esplin Odell)

 

Decades from today, the pandemic should be remembered as the crucible of effective international cooperation against 21st-century threats. So far, it looks more like we are choosing to make the threats worse and create new perils.

 

chinese edition (simplified)  /  chinese edition (traditional)

 

Quincy Institute video  /  interview on Background Briefing

 

 

The Price of Primacy: Why America Shouldn’t Dominate the World

 

Foreign Affairs, March/April 2020, 19-29

 

Washington’s post–Cold War strategy has failed. The United States should abandon the quest for armed primacy in favor of protecting the planet and creating more opportunity for more people. It needs a grand strategy for the many.

 

french edition  /  spanish edition

 

 

Why Joe Biden’s Foreign Policy Isn’t So Visionary

 

Responsible Statecraft, March 9, 2020

 

Biden offers a proudly restorationist foreign policy. His main pitch is to bring back U.S. global “leadership” after its supposed Trumpian aberration, rather than to deliver what the American people need and increasingly demand: a clean break from decades of policy failure, to which Biden himself has contributed.

 

 

Trump Has No Strategy for the Middle East, Only Vengeance

 

Responsible Statecraft, January 7, 2020

 

Donald Trump’s Iran policy — the current policy of the United States — is driven by a thirst for vengeance and domination. Of course Trump has no coherent strategy, makes slipshod decisions, and flouts the law. That is the point.

 

 

The Infinity War

 

The Washington Post, December 15, 2019, B1-2 (with Samuel Moyn)

 

There is a reason the quagmire in Afghanistan, despite costing thousands of lives and $2 trillion, has failed to shock Americans into action: The United States for decades has made peace look unimaginable or unobtainable. We have normalized war.

 

Quincy Institute video

 

 

America’s Syria Debacle Is Not Trump’s Alone

 

Foreign Policy, October 18, 2019 (with Trita Parsi)

 

Trump and his interventionist critics share a fatal flaw. They fetishize armed force as the acid test of U.S. engagement and influence. As a result, both sides treat the deployment or removal of troops as the only act that really matters. And they denigrate the one tool that’s actually capable of resolving conflicts and comporting with U.S. interests: diplomacy.

 

 

The Only Way to End ‘Endless War’

 

The New York Times, September 15, 2019, SR7

 

Like the demand to tame the 1 percent, or the insistence that black lives matter, ending endless war sounds commonsensical but its implications are transformational. It requires more than bringing ground troops home from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. American war-making will persist so long as the United States continues to seek military dominance across the globe. Dominance, assumed to ensure peace, in fact guarantees war. 

 

 

The Quincy Institute Opposes America’s Endless Wars. Why Should That Be a Scandal?

 

The Washington Post, August 30, 2019

 

Might there exist a choice besides armed domination or total isolation? The American people have heard enough from those who dismiss as “isolationist” anyone who objects to the use of force. If it remains impermissible to oppose war anywhere, the United States will end up waging war everywhere.

 

 

Here’s One Way Democrats Can Beat Trump: Be Radically Anti-War

 

The Guardian, July 1, 2019 (with Mark Hannah)

 

Democrats need to articulate a positive vision that combines peaceful engagement with military restraint — an American internationalism fit for the 21st century. Otherwise Trump’s nativist pitch will stand alone as the alternative to establishment platitudes.

 

interview on Morning Joe

 

 

Can We Stop a Cold War With China? 

 

The New York Times, June 9, 2019, SR4

 

Led by President Trump, Washington is swiftly and decisively turning against the world’s No. 2 power. That could be disastrous.

 

chinese edition (simplified)  /  chinese edition (traditional)

 

 

How to End Endless War: The Case Against American Military Supremacy

 

The New Republic, April 2019, 10-11   publisher version

 

Trump and the establishment are one in assuming that the United States must maintain global military dominance, regardless of circumstances, forever. It is long past time to question this assumption. 

 

 

A Clash is Coming Over America’s Place in the World

 

The New York Times, February 26, 2019

 

Foreign policy hands are putting forward something like opposite diagnoses of America’s failure and opposite prescriptions for the future. One camp holds that the United States erred by coddling China and Russia, and urges a new competition against these great power rivals. The other camp, which says the United States has been too belligerent and ambitious around the world, counsels restraint, not another crusade against grand enemies.

 

 

Democratic Party Elites Silence Ilhan Omar at Their Peril

 

The Guardian, February 16, 2019 (with Trita Parsi)

 

Democratic voters seek genuine alternatives, not the continuation of a one-party DC elite that assumes its right to rule and rules badly to boot. But the Democratic establishment is moving in the opposite direction.

 

 

Don’t Let the Democrats Become the Party of War

 

Foreign Policy, February 4, 2019 (with Trita Parsi)

 

Over the past six months, Democratic politicians and experts have repeatedly urged this most impulsive and unprincipled of presidents to undertake more international conflict, not less. As progressives seek to develop a new foreign policy, they should reject the party’s drift toward belligerence and rescue diplomacy from Trump and the Democratic establishment alike.

 

interview on Background Briefing

 

Return of the Neocons

 

The New York Review of Books, January 2, 2019

 

Trump has forced neoconservatives to decide, for the first time, whether they are more against “totalitarianism” or “globalism.” If anti-totalitarians take Trump to be perverting what they hold dear, anti-globalist neocons have found in Trump a kindred spirit and vehicle for power.

 

portuguese edition  /  serbian edition

 

interview on Bloggingheads

 

 

Paeans to the ‘Postwar Order’ Won’t Save Us

 

War on the Rocks, August 6, 2018

 

Despite claiming a seven-decade pedigree, the defense of the “liberal order” is surprisingly vulnerable to attack from each side, for it offers a nationalism that dares not to speak its name, and an internationalism afraid to walk the talk.

 

 

Forget Whether Trump is ‘Normal’: That Won’t Help Beat Him

 

The Washington Post, June 6, 2018

 

Normality is the wrong yardstick, analytically and politically. “This is not normal” offers a false diagnosis and sorry comfort that Trump came from nowhere and will revert there soon. It disarms his critics from taking full measure of the problem and developing adequate solutions.

 

 

Trump’s Foreign Policy is Very American

 

The New York Times, March 11, 2018, SR7 (with Thomas Meaney)  

 

Democracy requires experts but it also requires something from them: that they facilitate public debate and respect the ultimate power of the electorate to set the aims of the nation. By rallying behind the lowest common denominator of “anything but Trump,” they are disengaging the public’s discontent, pulling up the drawbridge until the next election. In that sense, Donald Trump is not the only one who might be called an isolationist.

 

german edition  /  greek edition  /  hungarian edition  /  persian edition

 

 

A ‘Trump Doctrine’ Is Born: ‘America First’ Has Become ‘Defending the West’

 

The New York Times, July 23, 2017, SR1-2

 

Like it or not, the emerging Trump doctrine has deep roots in American tradition. Six months in, the time has come for advocates of American world leadership to own up to a fact: Donald Trump is one of you.

 

follow-up interview with New York Times

 

 

The Long Road to Trump’s War

 

The New York Times, April 10, 2017, A21 (with Samuel Moyn)

 

After Vietnam, the American people recognized an American catastrophe. They embarked on a sustained period of self-reflection and policy evolution. Despite the tumult and excesses of that era, vocal disagreement at least reflected a determination to put things right. Mr. Trump’s victory indicates that when we lived through our own disaster, we failed to reckon with the past and paved the way for an even more terrifying future.

 

 

Democratizing U.S. Foreign Policy

 

Foreign Affairs, April 5, 2017 (with Daniel Bessner)   publisher version

 

For too long, foreign policy experts have isolated themselves from the public. Confined to the coastal cities, experts have failed to engage citizens where they live and work. Worse, experts typically tell the public what must be done instead of presenting multiple options from which the public can choose. They thereby deny ordinary people their due as the ultimate decision-makers in a democracy. No wonder the public is showing the back of its hand, refusing to take experts seriously.

 

 

Quit Calling Donald Trump an Isolationist, He’s Worse than That

 

The Washington Post, February 17, 2017, B2   publisher version

 

Trump is no isolationist, whether caricatured or actual. Rather than seeking to withdraw from the world, he vows to exploit it. Far from limiting the area of war, he threatens ruthless violence against globe-spanning adversaries and glorifies martial victory. In short, the president is a militarist.

 

 

Trump and American Exceptionalism: Why a Crippled America is Something New

 

Foreign Affairs, January 3, 2017   publisher version

 

Trump has already distinguished himself in one dramatic respect. He may be the first president to take office who explicitly rejects American exceptionalism.

 

 

Grand Flattery

 

The Nation, May 28, 2012, 27-31 (with Thomas Meaney)   publisher version

 

Is there a single, overarching purpose, much less strategy, around which a world power should orient everything it does? Certainly, if an all-consuming threat truly exists, but otherwise grand strategy becomes a recipe for simplifying the world and magnifying threats—in which case the best “grand strategy” may be no grand strategy.

 

 

Barack Obama and the Limits of Prudence

 

Dissent, October 11, 2010 (with Thomas Meaney)   publisher version

 

Obama and America are disenchanted today less because they have different values within the American political spectrum than because they have different orientations toward politics as a whole. More than any American president within memory, Barack Obama embodies the “ethic of responsibility” identified by the sociologist Max Weber in his lecture Politics as a Vocation. Obama weighs possible consequences carefully and tries to produce the best result. This comes in contrast to the “ethic of ultimate ends” favored by large swaths of the American public.

 

 

When Humanitarianism Hurts

 

The Utopian, Vol. 6, March 26, 2010   publisher version

 

If we believe there is a duty to stop genocide, it matters only whether there is genocide. We need think no further. Genocide must be stopped. States must act. All competing values are trumped; politics is adjourned. Never mind what the consequences of a mission to stop genocide might be. No matter if intervention, however intended, seems more likely to do harm than good. Merely inquiring about consequences is subversive. It denies the duty to intervene. For if you think outcomes matter, you have to entertain the possibility that, on reflection, the most humane way to act might fall short of stopping genocide. It might even be to do nothing at all.

 

 

Bleeding for Humanity

 

Harvard International Review, June 17, 2009   publisher version

 

The impulse to confront evil is not the same as the impulse to help. It undermines humanitarianism by fixating on wrongdoers, distracting from victims. It injects a moralism that makes matters of implementation seem beside the point, and a judgmentalism that chokes off understanding of genocide’s political and strategic causes.