Internationalism, the Donald Trump Way

Posted April 27, 2024

Categories: Articles, Featured, US Foreign Policy


If a NATO member doesn’t spend enough on its own defence, Donald Trump said in February, he’d ‘encourage’ Russia ‘to do whatever the hell they want’ to those ‘delinquent’ countries.

The Republican frontrunner for the US presidency, as usual, didn’t apologize or back away from his comment, which defies seven decades of US support for NATO allies. In the face of criticism from politicians in the United States and Europe, he simply repeated his threat.

But Trump’s words must not be mistaken as a sign that he will pursue a strict isolationist foreign policy in a potential second term. If Donald Trump wins in November, he will most likely continue to impose his own brand of militarism and his own version of internationalism.

Coddled dictators

During his four years in the White House, Trump strengthened ties with illiberal governments around the world, including those of India, Saudi Arabia and Hungary. He encouraged the perverse internationalism which included elevated levels of fossil fuel production, global military spending and anti-immigrant xenophobia. He inspired a new generation of populists like Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Javier Milei in Argentina and Nayib Bukele in El Salvador.


Trump’s illiberal internationalism was a spectacular failure. He coddled dictators, undermined international law and dragged the world backwards on global challenges like climate change and nuclear proliferation.

More specifically, Trump’s cancellation of the Iran nuclear deal led to the replacement of a reformist leadership in Tehran with a group of hardliners who have raised the risk of Iran going nuclear.

The tariffs he imposed on Chinese goods not only endangered US-Chinese co-operation on such urgent tasks as the reduction of carbon emissions but imposed huge costs on US businesses and consumers. And Trump’s encouragement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing government fanned the flames of anti-Palestinian sentiment that has exploded into today’s horrific war on Gaza.

This is not isolationism. Trump actively engaged with certain world leaders, tussled with specific global institutions and took stands on several critical international topics. He did so to reinforce a version of sovereigntism by which leaders have asserted their privilege to ignore international law and the decisions of international institutions so that they can do whatever they want within the borders of their countries (and sometimes, in the case of Vladimir Putin, outside their borders as well).

Fuelling militarism

Aside from his failed internationalism, Trump is also not a peace-loving candidate, despite the claims of some of his backers. He may have criticized the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex when he was president, but he also raised US military spending to new heights, boosted US arms sales overseas and populated his administration with top defence contractors. He also made great strides in militarizing space.

A sequel to Trump’s presidency will likely churn out more of the same. The Project 2025 blueprint for a second Trump term – prepared by the rightwing Heritage Foundation and their far right allies – envisions a new era of US military assertiveness. This alternative to the liberal internationalism of the Democrats would bolster the US global military footprint by focusing firstly on countering China and secondly on North Korea, Iran and Russia.

If he follows this blueprint, Trump would replenish depleted stockpiles, enhance nuclear capabilities and militarize the border with Mexico. Perhaps most frighteningly, Project 2025 recommends shifting from ‘defensive’ to ‘offensive’ capabilities in space and cyber operations.

Biden’s own hard line

Joe Biden’s liberal internationalism was certainly a welcome relief after the brinkmanship of Trump. But the last four years have also seen the US spend even more on the Pentagon, pursue military operations throughout the Middle East, and pump out a record amount of oil.

The Biden administration has done little to prevent the economic uncoupling with China. It has pursued its own hard line at the US-Mexico border, and it hasn’t done nearly enough to address the needs of the communities hardest hit by the effects of economic globalization and climate catastrophes.

Stopping Trump – and his far right compatriots around the world – is absolutely necessary. But this alone is not enough.

The planet desperately needs a new internationalism, grounded in international law, economic equity and environmental justice. To get there, however, progressives need to strategize across issues and across borders, to run candidates and apply movement pressure on existing governments while building inclusive efforts that appeal to all those left behind by economic globalization.

A world engulfed in border-busting wars, climate-change-enhanced superstorms and soaring economic inequality needs an internationalism built from below by engaged citizens determined to extinguish the fires that leaders like Trump started and leaders like Biden have done little to stop.

March 12, 2024, New Internationalist

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *