Rasmussen says he’s not interested in picking sides in the U.S. election, but his preferences are obvious. “If Mr. Trump were to be elected president of the United States, I am concerned it would be the end of the American-led world order,” he told Politico in August. In The Will to Lead, Rasmussen makes a detailed case for why the unraveling of that order would be a bad thing for both the United States and the world.
Rasmussen, who was leading NATO in 2014 when Vladimir Putin intervened militarily in Ukraine and annexed Crimea, is particularly troubled by Trump’s admiration of the Russian president and refusal to criticize Russian aggression. He’s also concerned by Trump’s musings about not defending NATO members if those members haven’t fulfilled their financial obligations to the military alliance. “If a NATO ally was attacked by Russia, and if the alliance did not respond to that, the alliance is finished,” Rasmussen said.
Trump “has praised President Putin and other autocrats in a way that leaves me with the impression that he would rather conduct domestic policies and nation-building at home, so to speak, while the world could live without American engagement,” Rasmussen told me. “And that’s not how the modern world functions.”
Rasmussen’s book plays on the political trope that America cannot be the policeman of the world; he asserts that America—with its unrivaled military, economic, and diplomatic power—must play precisely that role. “The U.S. is destined to lead whether you like it or not,” he said. “As the world’s only superpower, that’s your burden.” The United Nations and European Union are too weak and internally divided to assume this responsibility, Rasmussen added; China, as a communist dictatorship, lacks the credibility that democracies possess, while Russia, as a depleted, distrusted power, lacks the capabilities to police the world.
Rasmussen claims that America’s role as the world’s policeman was in doubt well before the 2016 election. Barack Obama has demonstrated a degree of Trump-like “isolationism,” he argues, with grim consequences. “Experience shows that when the United States retreats or retrenches, it will leave behind a security vacuum, and that vacuum will be filled by the bad guys. And that’s what we are seeing,” he said. “While America and Europe slept, President Putin attacked Ukraine and he launched a reckless military operation in Syria.”
As Americans learned during the Pearl Harbor and 9/11 attacks, he continued, “It is in America’s interest to strike enemies on their soil instead of waiting and seeing them hit you on your soil.” Preventing conflicts or resolving them when they’re minor is less expensive than trying to treat them when they’ve grown unmanageable, he said, citing the price of U.S. inaction during the early stages of the Syrian Civil War. The cost to the United States of, say, stationing troops overseas or providing the bulk of NATO’s resources are more visible than the value America derives from those actions. But the value, according to Rasmussen, is immense: an “unprecedented era of peace and prosperity,” and 70 years without nuclear war or world war. Most Americans, moreover, benefit economically when “free trade and exchange between peoples around the world take place peacefully and according to certain rules.”