Imagine you’ve had it with your house. Or, more precisely, you’re conflicted about it. You’ve loved living there. It’s a mid-century design—the biggest house on the block. You don’t really want to move. But the years, the kids, they’ve taken their toll on the place. In looking into what to do, you meet an interior designer with 25 years of experience and a fistful of glowing testimonials; she bounces around your home, gushing about the “life-changing” window treatments she’ll put here and the “modern, sophisticated” sofas she’ll add there. When you ask for a second opinion, you’re floored: The guy tells you that the whole structure has been neglected for too long, and that it should be gutted and renovated. He didn’t bring testimonials and he couldn’t care less about window treatments, but he says he knows the best contractors in the world. Why tinker around the edges, he asks, when you could build your dream house instead? Why not put the bathroom where the kitchen is? No, really: What’s stopping you?
Welcome, roughly, to the emerging debate over foreign policy in the U.S. presidential election. Hillary Clinton is the interior designer. She appears to have a considerable advantage over Donald Trump when it comes to experience and knowledge. But that experience and knowledge is only a political asset insofar as voters buy into the premises of the international system that the United States has helped design and lead since World War II—the system, in other words, in which Clinton got all that experience. It’s only valuable insofar as you want to keep the kitchen where it is. If you don’t, well … the guy with the demolition equipment starts looking pretty appealing.