Getting “world order” wrong

In this post called “Getting Italy wrong,” I argued that when EU types say populism threatens liberal democracy they usually mean it threatens their policy preferences, which often are not particularly democratic. The same is largely true, I think, of complaints that Donald Trump threatens the “world order.”

This story by Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post — “In Trump, some fear the end of the world order” — is full of moans that, as the pompous Donald Tusk puts it, Trump is challenging “the rules-based international order.” But how is Trump doing this?

Through tariffs? What rule prohibits Trump from imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum? I disagree with Trump’s decision to do so, but surely the rules-based international order does not depend on the absence of these tariffs. Canada imposes ungodly tariffs on U.S. agricultural products without threatening the world order. Why should our tariffs threaten it?

They don’t. Eurocrats and their friends are just using buzz words to defend their economic interests.

Did Trump threaten the rules-based international order by exiting the Iran nuclear deal? I don’t think so. No rule required Trump to abide by an agreement the Senate didn’t approve.

Unlike Trump, Iran represents a genuine threat to rules-based international order. The international order is better served by squeezing the Iranian regime, as Trump is doing, than by enriching it, as the Europeans want to do.

DeYoung mentions climate change. But here too, we’re talking about a policy preference, not the world order. The insufferable Mr. Tusk accuses Trump of “play[ing] into the hands of those who seek a new post-West order where liberal democracy and fundamental freedoms would cease to exist.” How does pulling out of the Paris accord do this? If anything, staying in the agreement would limit freedom and play into the hands of anti-democratic adversaries like China.

Trump’s statement that Russia should be allowed back into what is now the Group of Seven is, I believe, at odds with promoting world order. Russia’s behavior on multiple fronts threatens world order. It was expelled for annexing Crimea. It deserved to be cast out and its subsequent conduct reinforces that decision.

But Trump isn’t demanding that Russia be reinstated. His suggestion to that effect, though misguided, does not threaten world order.

I agree with Steven Hadley, George W. Bush’s national security adviser, that the media and political posturing are responsible for much of the worry about the imminent collapse of the Western system. He describes the concern as “overblown.” Hadley, though, thinks that Trump’s behavior “probably” poses “a risk” to the system.

Maybe. But if so, I think it’s mainly because Europeans like Donald Tusk equate their policy preferences with the world order.

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