President Donald Trump is a unilateralist. He often seems more comfortable condemning allies than adversaries. He prefers to go his own way, walking away from multinational agreements or understandings with relish—witness the Paris Climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. He makes it clear that he wants out of the Middle East—a region that, he believes, has consumed far too much American blood and treasure.
Democrats have rushed to attack the president for these stances. But although they might critique his rejection of multilateralism, in many cases, their view of the Middle East is not that different from his. They, too, want to withdraw from the world and reduce our responsibilities. They might respect the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear program, but they show little willingness to assume obligations and responsibilities in the Middle East or internationally. There is a danger that many of Trump’s Democratic challengers might reject the imagery of his foreign policy, but not necessarily some of its practical implications.
There is an alternative vision for Democrats that does not require the United States to be the world’s policeman, although it would still require the U.S. to play an active role on the world stage, fulfilling its responsibilities toward those who would partner with us against persistent threats. It would, in other words, be very different from Trump’s go-it-alone instincts or from those Democrats who favor retrenchment. If Trump’s opponents want to do more than defeat him at home—if they wish to restore America’s standing and security abroad—they will have to embrace the four principles of this vision, and explain to voters why Trump is as wrong on the substance of his foreign policy as he is on its style.