This is the vision that the Cohn/McMaster op-ed rejects.
The rejection adds a sinister tint to these words:
At every stop in our journey, we delivered a clear message to our friends and partners: Where our interests align, we are open to working together to solve problems and explore opportunities. We let adversaries know that we will not only take their measure, deter conflict through strength, and defend our interests and values, but also look for areas of common interest that allow us to work together. In short, those societies that share our interests will find no friend more steadfast than the United States. Those that choose to challenge our interests will encounter the firmest resolve.
There’s a lot to unpack here, and none of it is good.
First, those bold words about defending “interests and values” against adversaries sound ill in the mouth of administration officials who may owe their high offices in some degree to the clandestine assistance of a foreign adversary. So long as Russia’s attack on U.S. democracy in 2016 goes not only unpunished—but actively denied—by the Trump administration, they have no standing for this kind of robust language.
But they may attach a private meaning to that language. Trump himself and some of those who influence him pretty obviously regard the European Union, not Russia, as their most important adversary. Donald Trump has consistently refused to recognize even the existence of the EU, vainly attempting to negotiate trade agreements with individual member nations, despite their treaty obligations to each other. You can mark that attempt to Trump’s ignorance if you like, but according to German reports, Cohn himself—the former COO and president of Goldman Sachs!—tried the same gambit on the president’s trip.*
But here is the truest tell. You can have friends. Or you can have people you work with only when your immediate interests align. Those are not the same thing. The Cohn/McMaster op-ed uses the word “friend”—without ever making clear who belongs to that category—but its logic is that of a nation friendless and alone. Perhaps the most terrifying thing about the Trump presidency is the way even its most worldly figures, in words composed for them by its deepest thinkers, have reimagined the United States in the image of their own chief: selfish, isolated, brutish, domineering, and driven by immediate appetites rather than ideals or even longer-term interests.
Like Trump himself, this general and this financier who speak for him know only the language of command, not of respect. They summon partners to join them "to enhance American security, promote American prosperity, and extend American influence around the world”—and never anticipate or answer the question, “Why should we British, French, Germans, Canadians, Australians, and on and on through the catalogue of your disrespected allies join that project?”
Under the slogan of restoring American greatness, they are destroying it. Promising readers that they want to “restore confidence in American leadership,” they instead threaten and bluster in ways that may persuade partners that America has ceased to be the leader they once respected—but an unpredictable and dangerous force in world affairs, itself to be contained and deterred by new coalitions of ex-friends.
* This article originally named Gary Cohn as CEO of Goldman Sachs. We regret the error.