A post-American world order? Why this time really is different


Daniel Drener, international politics professor at the Fletcher Scholl, has been unsparing in his view of what will happen with US foreign policy in the future.

Professor Drezner wrote a piece in Foreign Affairs headlined “This time is different”. The sub-head was: “Why US Foreign Policy Will Never Recover”. Click here to read the whole thing or just carry on with this blog.

It’s a hard, difficult read for any American and those who wish the US well. But Professor Drezner does seem to have nailed it.

He notes that US hard power is in relative decline and US soft power has taken a huge hit. He writes:

“For decades, the sky has refused to fall.  But this time really is different. Just when many of the sources of American power are ebbing, many of the guardrails that have kept US foreign policy on track have been worn down.”

Professor Drezner is fair to President Donald Trump:

“It is tempting to pin this degradation on Trump and his retrograde foreign policy views, but the erosion predated him by a good long while. Shifts in the way Americans debate and conduct foreign policy will make it much more difficult to right the ship in the near future. Foreign policy discourse was the last preserve of bipartisanship, but political polarization has irradiated that marketplace of ideas.”

And then, Professor Drezner asks the question that should really concern us:

“The question is not what US foreign policy can do after Trump. The question is whether there is any viable grand strategy that can endure past an election cycle.”


As he writes: “For decades, these dynamics, global and domestic, kept crises from becoming cataclysmic. US foreign policy kept swinging back into equilibrium. So what has changed? Today, there is no more equilibrium, and the structural pillars of American power are starting to buckle.”

First, as measured by purchasing power parity, the US “stopped being the largest economy in the world a few years ago. Its command of the global commons has weakened as China’s and Russia’s asymmetric capabilities have improved. The accumulation of ‘forever wars’ and low-intensity conflicts has taxed the United States’ armed forces.”

As for the Trump effect on foreign policy, Professor Drezner writes: “The same steps that empowered the president to create foreign policy have permitted Trump to destroy what his predecessors spent decades preserving. The other branches of government endowed the White House with the foreign policy equivalent of a Ferrari; the current occupant has acted like a child playing with a toy car, convinced that he is operating in a land of make-believe.”

Finally, says Professor Drezner, The factors that give the United States an advantage in the international system—deep capital markets, liberal ideas, world-class higher education—have winner-take-all dynamics. Other actors will be reluctant to switch away from the dollar, Wall Street, democracy, and the Ivy League. These sectors can withstand a few hits.”

However, there are acute perils in believing the US will reign ever more supreme:

“Excessive use of financial statecraft, alliances with overseas populists, or prolonged bouts of anti-immigrant hysteria, however, will force even close allies to start thinking about alternatives. The American advantage in these areas will go bankrupt much like Mike Campbell in The Sun Also Rises did: ‘gradually and then suddenly’.”

A post-American world order would look startlingly like today:

The United States would still be a great power but its preferences would increasingly carry “minimal weight, as China and Europe coordinated on a different set of rules”.

Professor Drezner notes that Middle Eastern allies, would line up along with different political parties. So would the Europeans. Latin America would become “vulnerable to a new Great Game”.

All in all, this time really is different.

He’s convinced me.