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Back to Liberal American Hegemony

Summary:
Although Joe Biden's victory in the US presidential election has been met with sighs of relief around the world, America's European allies should not assume that its core strategic interests have changed. Still, Biden will bring a very different tone to US foreign policy, and, as the French say, it is the tone that makes the music. HAMBURG – After four years of Donald Trump, his impending departure has sent hopes soaring. The Great Disruptor will be replaced by Joe Biden, an internationalist and institutionalist. He likes Europe and NATO, and, unlike Trump, he will treat America’s friends better than its traditional foes, including by honoring free trade. In the realm of security, he won’t clobber allies with threats

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Although Joe Biden's victory in the US presidential election has been met with sighs of relief around the world, America's European allies should not assume that its core strategic interests have changed. Still, Biden will bring a very different tone to US foreign policy, and, as the French say, it is the tone that makes the music.

HAMBURG – After four years of Donald Trump, his impending departure has sent hopes soaring. The Great Disruptor will be replaced by Joe Biden, an internationalist and institutionalist. He likes Europe and NATO, and, unlike Trump, he will treat America’s friends better than its traditional foes, including by honoring free trade. In the realm of security, he won’t clobber allies with threats amounting to “pay up, or we pull out!” Multilateralism will again guide American policy. It will be back to liberal hegemony instead of Trump’s narrow-minded illiberal version.

“Liberal” implies a rules-based international order, the promotion of democracy, and open societies. Trump not only ditched these principles, but also demonstrated a penchant for the world’s strongmen, alternately flirting with the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. (Of course, the United States’ coddling of Saudi Arabia cannot be pinned on Trump; every administration has adhered to the time-honored dictum: “He may be a bastard, but he’s our bastard.”)

Trump’s game was strictly zero-sum, especially on trade. This was a marked departure from the post-war American tradition, which stressed positive-sum outcomes in which both sides won. Trump dragged the world back to nineteenth-century power politics: states have no permanent friends, on this view, only permanent interests.

Naturally, we now hope for a restoration of the old liberal order. Some reconstruction will happen under Biden, a president schooled for nearly a half-century in the habits of America’s liberal empire. But note that Trump was not a total aberration. America’s shift toward...

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