By Editor Stephen Dames
In the minds of the majority of the American public, “America First” is a phrase used exclusively by President Trump and his administration. For the average Joe, the phrase serves as a symbol for Trump’s isolationist and ruthless foreign policy vision. This approach is one through which the United States reasserts its dominance over global trade and leverages its long-standing alliances for the sake of independence and money. However, this phrase first got its start with a man named Charles Lindbergh who in the 1930s was known primarily by being the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Years after that feat, he served as the most prominent spokesman for the America First Committee (an isolationist and “proudly patriotic” organization) which sought to keep the US out of WWII.
At this point, Lindbergh was a well-known Nazi sympathizer who was viciously anti-semitic and served on this committee in an attempt to prevent the US from siding with the Allies. All this serves to show us that the so-called “national security experts” working in our government have a very short memory. It’s time for a new American foreign policy, where the lessons of our past guide us into a better future. This new left-internationalist policy is just beginning to gain traction within US politics. For our sake and for the sake of the world, it must be enacted.
Between Nixon and Trump, America oscillated between two foreign policies. On one side, a neo-liberal internationalist policy dominated, with its focus on protecting the interests of large conglomerates and on “protecting democracy abroad” (which often looks like nation-building). On the other side was a right-wing, nationalist policy with different goals than the neo-liberal approach (such as the goals of Lindbergh’s “America First Movement”) but which went about doing this in very much the same way. These policies have led to major victories for the US foreign policy and military apparatus but have continuously failed the average person. This antiquated foreign policy vision has left millions of people across the globe disillusioned with the idea of America as the “police force of the world” and has left millions more homeless or dead. Examples of the failure of these foreign policy visions are numerous and can be found in all of the conflict zones across the globe. Some major examples include the famine in Yemen, the Syrian Civil War, the border conflict in the South China Sea, and the rise of nationalism and neo-fascism across the globe.
These strategies have also failed the average American economically, with massive trade deals continually ravaging the American worker and union jobs disappearing abroad to appease multinational corporations seeking extra profits.
Clearly, the “traditional” neo-liberal US foreign policy is failing us and is failing the world so when Trump presented his “America First” vision for a semi-isolationist US, people supported it, as they saw the failure of neo-liberal policy all around them. In 2016, swing voters rejected Hillary Clinton’s continuation of the neo-liberal approach of the past 30+ years and sided with Trump’s nationalistic program, as they have personally felt the failures of Clinton’s brand of policy, while Trump’s isolationist vision was simply lines in a speech to them. However, as we have seen, Trump’s policies are regressive, cruel, and will only hurt the world and the average American more. According to Reuters Magazine, the US-China trade war personally costs the average American family $600 per year, which is set to go up more if Trump raises tariffs further (which is certainly possible). This tariff frenzy has not brought back manufacturing jobs lost to the trade deals signed in previous administrations but has only served to tax the average worker. This coupled with Trump’s cozying up to dictators such as Bolanarso, Putin, Erdoğan, and Orban while pushing away traditional allies such as Canada, France, and England shows the stupidity and short-sightedness of his foreign policy. However, this foreign policy’s presentation is what truly sets it apart from its neo-liberal counterpart, as the blueprint he is putting into place is really just inflated neoliberalism in several ways. His policies around immigration and around Iran may seem to some like they are radically different from the policies of previous administrations, (to some extent they are) but the bulk of the difference is in rhetoric and presentation.
These two visions have dominated American politics for the past 40 years, but finally, a viable alternative is just coming to the forefront of American politics. Described by Aziz Rana in Jacobin Magazine, Left-Internationalism would “oppose American international police power — the presumptive right of intervention — and refuse to treat any foreign people as an instrument in the service of state security ends. It would view social democracy rather than free-market capitalism…as the bedrock of global economic relations.” This new vision for American foreign policy is one that is rooted in the anti-capitalist and anti-war movements led by figures such as Eugene Debs, Bertrand Russel, Martin Luther King, and W.E.B. DuBois. Its aims are simple: stop needless US intervention in conflicts abroad, end US support of dictators, protect workers and the environment by re-negotiating trade deals, cooperate with other nations to improve global health and safety, and foster a system of interdependence and economic stability which promotes peace. This is as yet a very vague blueprint for a new world order, but theorists and politicians are starting to give it some attention. With leftist think tanks such as the People’s Policy Project investing money and time into researching these new ideas, and with writers such as Bhaskar Sunkara, Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, and Michael Walzer theorizing about what these policies might look like, the vision will not remain vague for long.
Left-Internationalism is an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and cooperative vision for the future which seeks to change the global order into one which works for the people and not for a select few who gain beyond the status quo. Writing for The Nation, Michael Walzer describes what can be done to achieve this vision: “We look for people who are fighting for equality, democracy, and freedom anywhere in the world, and we join their fight. Think of this as the foreign policy of the left.” In order to make this blueprint into a reality, we will need mass mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II. The common person must stand up and demand a change to the status quo in order to promote peace, prosperity, and justice worldwide.