The world is currently undergoing a disturbing realignment of power. The United States has lost its leadership, while China and Russia are moving fast. Just look at the countries with which the United States negotiates today and those with which it did so twenty years ago. It is impressive, but from having 75 % of the global market, it has gone down to almost 25 %. China achieved this in less than two decades.
China has become a kind of massive concentration camp and promoter of everything that harms the United States and the West. Russia, in domestic terms, is a sort of czarism based on absolute corruption. In international terms, an ally of the enemies of the United States. Of course, its influence, which today is massive, is worrying.
The difference is that in the Kremlin and in Zhongnanhai there are statesmen; in the White House there are not. Without intending to praise them, we must recognize that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are first-class politicians, who have outlined great long-term projects, with the purpose of safeguarding and imposing the sovereignty and values of their countries.
The United States being irrelevant and weak is the worst-case scenario for those who believe in the value of freedom. Under President Trump’s administration we saw the White House’s willingness to regain that relevance and stand up to Chinese expansionism. Now, under Biden, the United States seems to be heading in the opposite direction, straight into the arms of China and Russia. Although Trump proposed as the backbone of his movement the patriotic idea that America should be the priority of Americans (with key policies such as prioritizing local jobs, robust borders, developing domestic companies and manufacturing, and avoiding unnecessary and massive spending on useless international organizations), he was not an isolationist.
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. annihilated the leader of ISIS and reduced the terrorist group. He killed General Soleimani, the second most powerful man in the Iranian theocracy; but he also orchestrated important peace deals between Israel and the Arab world. He also sponsored the historic rapprochement between the two Koreas. That is what he is all about: pacifist, but not docile. America-focused, but not isolationist.
A problem is emerging among conservatives today, and it has to do with the insistence that America First means fully isolating the United States. The mistake of some of those who insist on upholding the legacy of former President Trump is to cling to the notion that outside America’s borders there is only jungle and sand. If America First means completely isolating oneself from the world, the natural consequence will be an irrelevant, weak and docile United States in the face of advancing hostile great powers.
There has been an uproar because conservatives are paying enormous attention to the Cuban crisis, as if that implied abandoning local concerns altogether. As if the United States is not a great power, with Departments. As if current foreign policy and current domestic policy are mutually exclusive. It is not one or the other, it is all those that are in tune with the interests of the Americans. And the Cuban case, of course, should be in the interest of Americans. Because no other country is as affected firsthand by what is happening on the island as the United States. And because Florida has become a Republican stronghold thanks to the vote of those who fled the Castro regime (in Cuba and the rest of the region.)
Opposition to addressing problems in other countries stems from the terror of traumatic experiences such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or Vietnam. However, it is irresponsible to approach the discussion without considering all cases. As Niall Ferguson correctly argues, “So scarred is the nation by what has come to be perceived as failure that successful interventions have been forgotten.”
“No one now recalls that it was the US that ended the “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnia and Kosovo, for example, and brought Slobodan Milosevic to justice, he continues. “No one today discusses the invasion of Panama in 1989, which terminated the reign of a criminal despot.”
Add to this that the United States saved Europe (and, saved itself) twice, during the World Wars. Grenada and, of course, Cuba at the end of the 19th century.
It is important to emphasize that every effort has been framed to safeguard Washington’s interests and that is the key.
America First cannot mean leaving the world at the mercy of China and Russia. Of course, domestic problems are a priority, but foreign policy is innate to the nature of a nation (and, above all, a power). If the United States aspires to safeguard its national interests, it must deal with anything that threatens its global influence. Today Cuba represents that threat, and the Cubans have built an opportunity to destroy it. Taking advantage of it does not deteriorate the domestic situation. In fact, nothing would benefit the America First agenda more than a free and stable hemisphere.