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Trump's foreign policy is "long-building crisis," says former State Dept counselor Eliot Cohen

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President Trump's occasionally erratic approach to diplomatic challenges may be a symptom of broader American disenchantment with the country's post-World War II leadership role, but it's also likely causing a long-building crisis in U.S. foreign policy, says  former State Department counselor and foreign policy scholar Eliot Cohen.

"[T]he American people bought off on a global role for the United States…starting at the end of World War II," Cohen said. "And then in the 1990s and early 2000s, there was no public reconsideration of the policy that had given us a military an order of magnitude larger than we had ever had, and permanent alliances in peace time, and deployments overseas."

Fatigue with so-called "forever-wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan has likewise fueled attitudinal shifts, he said, as has the fact that there will soon be no living memory of the Second World War.

"It's often underestimated how important that is," said Cohen, who is now executive vice dean of Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

"[E]very one of our Cold War presidents had some kind of connection to the Second World War," he continued. "They all had learned some very profound lessons about what happens when the United States chooses not to be a major actor in shaping world order."

In an interview with Intelligence Matters host and CBS News Senior National Security contributor Michael Morell, Cohen, who also served as senior adviser to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2007 to 2009, elaborated on arguments from an essay he published recently in Foreign Affairs titled, "America's Long Goodbye."

"What the fundamental argument is, is that to some extent what Trump represents is a broader, not complete, but a broader American disenchantment with the role that we've played in the world since 1945," Cohen said.

"The desire to really disengage almost completely from the Middle East. The unwillingness to really contribute to the building of alliances," Cohen said, "I think, to some extent, he's representing a kind of broader sort of fatigue, which has a number of different sources." 

But Mr. Trump has also made questionable strategic or policy decisions in his own right, Cohen said. "[T]he damage that he's done has really been in terms of the deterioration of long-term relationships, particularly with allies."

And, citing a number of recent diplomatic challenges – including the administration's sporadic engagement in Venezuela's continued political crisis, its reluctance to call out China for its brutal treatment of its Uighur population, and its tepid response to Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the murder of a journalist who was an American resident – Cohen said the inconsistency of the administration approach will likely make other state and non-state actors more assertive and, potentially, more aggressive.

"[T]hey'll be asserting themselves in a variety of ways that will erode international norms and they will also believe that they can get away with intervention in politics around the world, in the kind of way that we saw in the last election – and that we'll see in future elections," Cohen said.

"I think you'll see more of that. And the result of that, I think, would be a more chaotic kind of world," he said.

For much more from Michael Morell's conversation with Eliot Cohen, you can listen to the new episode and subscribe to Intelligence Matters here.

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