Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said something in a radio interview yesterday that's worth remembering.
SiriusXM's Pete Dominick asked Haass, who used to be a preeminent voice in Republican foreign policy circles before taking over the non-partisan CFR, about how foreign officials perceive Donald Trump's presidency. Haass briefly reflected on international bewilderment before concluding:
"I think the rest of the world will never see us quite the same. I know that sounds quite strong, but if this could happen once, why couldn't it happen again?"I think the rest of the world will never put so many eggs in America's basket again. I think the rest of the world will adopt something of a hedging strategy -- because if this happened once, how do they know that there won't be elements of this again in our future?"
This struck a chord with me, because I think about it all the time.
As we discussed last summer, after Trump announced his rejection of the Paris climate accords, this presidency will end, perhaps in three years, at which point many Americans and their new president will turn to the world and declare with pride, "Don't worry, Trump is gone. The fluke is over. You can trust us again. The United States is back and the American president can lead the free world anew."
But at that point, many around the world will probably choose not to listen. They'll realize that the United States is capable of electing someone like Trump to the nation's highest office, and there's no guarantee that Americans won't make a similar decision again in the future. People around the globe will have no way of knowing when the electorate might elect someone else of Trump's ilk.
And with that lack of confidence comes consequences.
When Trump's successors, for example, try to reach international agreements, and make promises to our partners about the United States honoring its commitments, foreign officials will know that a Trump-like figure might come along, take office, and decide to betray those commitments.
America will struggle to lead because Trump will have left a stain on our global standing that will be difficult to remove. We'll want to regain the trust we had earned from much of the world, but how long that might take is unclear.