Foreign Policy Realism, Idealism, or Transactionalism?

An article in The American Conservative by Daniel R. Depetris contrasts Mitt Romney’s approach to foreign policy (as a synecdoche for the Republic Establishment) to that of Donald Trump. The former is a sort of idealism, where America takes point in the “U.S.-led liberal international order.” The latter sees international relations as a business transaction, where alliances are treated as a quid pro quo relationship. Is there a foreign policy realism that can be used as a middle ground?

The problem with Romney’s style of globalist idealism, aside from the fact that Americans are increasingly rejecting it, is that it leads to things like regime change campaigns and being saddled with terrible client states like Israel, seeing as the lone liberal democracy friend in the Middle East. The problem with Trump’s style is that we alienate countries that have interests aligned with our own and we end up saddled with terrible client states like Saudi Arabia, who are willing to spend billions purchasing weapons from the U.S.

A middle ground is one where we make friends with countries that have interests aligned with our own, big bonus if they’re also a liberal democracy, but who also don’t subsidize their national security by depending on the U.S. to defend them. Trump is a foreign policy novice, to put it in generous terms, but he’s right to point out how the other NATO signatories aren’t doing their part to bolster their own defense. And they can hardly be blamed when the U.S. has always been there to defend them – a state of affairs the U.S. foreign policy ‘experts’ have always seemed to prefer, as it fosters dependence on the U.S.

Sure, there should definitely be a drive to strengthen relations with countries like Great Britain, France, and Germany; with India, Japan, South Korea, and Australia; with Brazil and Mexico. Our interests align better with these countries than they do with, say, Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, North Korea, Pakistan, and Venezuela. But the U.S. shouldn’t continue to subsidize other country’s defense just for some idealistic notion of leading the so-called liberal world order. Partnerships and alliances should be mutually beneficial and all parties ought to contribute their fair share.