Presidents don’t get to choose their emergencies.
We do not know if the period we are about to enter under the presidency of Donald Trump will be as turbulent as the 1910s, the 1930s, the 1940s, or even the 1960s. But it is a safe bet that if such turbulence were to recur in our lifetimes, it would happen under conditions like those of today—a superpower under radical and volatile leadership, geopolitical rivalries, a populist revolt, and a fragile global economy.
As we peer into that future, it makes little sense to talk of Trump’s foreign policy in terms of how it will cope with normal emergencies—North Korea testing an ICBM, the Islamic State attacking the United States, Venezuela collapsing, just to name a few. Yes, the National Security Council is disorganized. Yes, Trump is untested and impulsive. And, yes, chances are he will err, at least in the beginning. His team may learn from the experience, or they may not. But the real questions concern what unique crises they will face. What was previously unthinkable, but now plausible?