Source: "Goodbye to values"
A timeline of American foreign policy positions.
WW 1 and Wilson - the idea that the US should use its power for good in the world.
1950’s - rivalry with the Soviet Union meant that the US wanted to serve as an inspiration to those who dream of freedom (Acheson) but must also deal with the realpolitik of the Cold War. This meant sometimes supporting dictators like Somoza in Nicaragua (“a bastard but our bastard” said Truman).
1970’s: Nixon puts detente with the USSR above “grandstanding” on human rights.
1975: President Ford, following the policy of detente, refuses to meet with Alexander Solzhenitsyn. This refusal to acknowledge the reality of the gulags earns Ford accusations of appeasement from both Republicans and Democrats.
1977: In a return to Wilson, President Carter “reaffirmed America’s commitment to human rights as a fundamental tenet of our foreign policy”. This move had bipartisan support. Reagan followed Carter’s lead.
1990’s: post Cold war - the emergence of neo-Wilsonianism based on three ideas with bipartisan support. First, “democratic peace theory” holds that the more democracies there are, the fewer wars. Hence, encourage democracy whenever possible. Next, “democratic transition theory” holds that there is a great worldwide movement towards democratic government. The US should be a leader here. Finally, R2P or “responsibility to protect” - the US must engage in measured military action to prevent tragedies (like Rwanda). The NATO interventions in the Balkans are R2P in action.
Obama viewed R2P differently. He preferred to fund civic groups inside authoritarian regimes to push them towards democracy rather than use military power.
Now we have Trump and the return to “America First”, to purely transactional considerations when dealing with foreign governments and the abandonment of the Wilsonian idea of using American power as a force for good in the world. Trump made phone calls of support in April ’17 to Erdogan of Turkey (100,000 arrested after a failed 2016 coup) and Duterte of the Philippines (9,000 killed in a drug law campaign).
From the article: “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson conveyed a similar impression to his department’s employees on May 3 017. He used the loaded phrase “America First”—coined by isolationists seeking to keep America out of the second world war—to define the new administration’s foreign policy. Central to his theme was that the pursuit of interests must take precedence over the promotion of values. Diplomats could express support for democracy, the rule of law and human rights, but only if that did not put an “obstacle” in the way of national-security and economic interests.This represents a rupture with at least four decades of bipartisan consensus in favor of liberal internationalism. Far from conflicting with America’s interests, argues Ted Piccone, a former foreign policy adviser in the Clinton administration now at the Brookings Institution, advancing normative values is essential to those interests, and is the basis for America’s national prestige and international legitimacy.”
From John McCain:“Depriving the oppressed of a beacon of hope could lose us the world we have built and thrived in.”