Coalition, or no, whether other nations were willing or not, the brand of America has been built on unilateral foreign policy. The world’s only superpower was also the world’s policeman.
Power, however, is a tool and as with money even great amounts of it are easily squandered without clear objectives and a sensible strategy.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was seen as the ultimate legitimation of unilateral diplomacy, an eternal blank check for Wilsonian exceptional interventionism at the “end of history.”
Every president since Reagan doubled down on this nonsense until it reached a climax of absurdity under George W. Bush. Obama finally toned it down a little bit, because he had to. Meddling went on unabated, but with most of America’s once abundant international political capital finally frittered away there was only so much he could do. By the end of his presidency he was a laughingstock openly mocked by the Chinese leadership, insulted by the leader of the Philippines, and regarded with thinly veiled contempt by Russia.
Trump leads a reaction to a political establishment that has been utterly discredited by its decades of relentless ineptitude and failure despite holding every possible strategic advantage.
It has been clear since Trump’s campaign he envisions a US that conducts foreign policy as a nation among nations, not as a bombastic world police that clumsily throws its weight around.
This will mean, thank goodness, far less meddling in the affairs of other nations and a restoration of balances of power. By wielding power with a lighter hand, it will become possible to accomplish far more.
The US can begin to create a post-exceptionalist, post-unilateral world by simply withdrawing US military interference.
Having US bases while limiting the military power of the host countries has increased the burden on the US while merely infuriating neighboring powers needlessly.
If the US removes most of its troops and involvement in NATO it forces EU nations to spend far more of their wealth on defense. If Europe insured itself against Russian aggression, Russia would possibly be more amenable to talking about its interests elsewhere…
With a stable balance of power between the EU bloc and Russia, the US could have more constructive conversations with Russia regarding its extremely long border with China. China is the only world power with potential, besides a real United States of Europe, to be in the same league as the USA.
America and China are presently economic partners joined at the hip, but we must think towards the long game. Even as the US-Chinese relationship exists now, why not encourage other powers to contain them, giving the US more bargaining leverage?
In light of this, the complete obsession of the USA’s establishment with the Middle East and anti-Russian sentiment is perplexing. A major foreign policy coup of the 21st century will be to split Russia from China as Nixon once split China away from the Soviet Union.
America could also withdraw from Japan forming a new, more equal relationship and encouraging Japanese re-armament and cooperation with Taiwan to counterbalance Chinese naval ambitions.
Hopefully, a post-exceptional international order would see the US and Europe able to freely operate with the emerging great power of China hampered by its nervous neighbors. Why meddle when we need only encourage them to do what serves themselves? The Daoist maxim to “do without doing” will be very appropriate in coming years.
Regarding Korea, it is ironic that if the US renounced its military commitments in the South, it’s possible the Chinese would become suddenly more amenable to discussing phasing out a client state of North Korea they have no special love for, but have kept around as a buffer against a clumsily over-aggressive US. Add some diplomatic pressure from neighboring powers, and perhaps an understanding could be arrived at where none is possible now…
Much of the benefits of a post-unilateral foreign policy come from simply undoing the heavy-handed status quo that counter-productively plays at imperialism. From now on we may see the US doing more with less or in other words, “under budget and ahead of schedule.”