WEISS: America’s abdication from the fight for global security

The Trump administration has failed to steadily guide the international community towards a more peaceful world


The Rohingya of western Myanmar have been perpetually persecuted by the Burmese government.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons | Cavalier Daily

The Rohingya in western Myanmar are being ethnically cleansed by the Burmese government, and the President of the United States has done nothing to stop it. His administration might even have learned from Myanmar’s example when it decided to repeal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, placing hundreds of thousands of de facto American citizens back under the shadow of deportation. The Trump administration does not care about the values the United States traditionally stands for. The past eight months of this presidency have seen an America in moral and strategic decline, the executive’s various departments left to implement their policy preferences in haphazard and disconnected fashion while the president caws to the white nationalist id and makes impetuous, destabilizing decisions. America looks mean and small, and the world is suffering for it.

The plight of the Rohingya is one of the world’s most pressing humanitarian crises, and the Trump administration will inevitably fail them. Comprising over one-third of the population of the Rakhine state in western Myanmar, the Muslim minority has suffered invariably at the hands of numerous Burmese governments, and now Myanmar’s nascent democracy. Since the formulation of the Citizenship Law of 1982, the Rohingya have found themselves “stateless,” stripped of their political rights and systematically victimized by the Buddhist Rakhine majority and the Burmese government. After a particularly bloody Rakhine assault in October 2012, Myanmar sought the Rohingya’s mass deportation and began restricting them to “internally displaced persons” camps, finalizing a system of apartheid. Bouts of state-backed violence in 2016 and in the past few weeks have caused this long-roiling crisis to reach what may well be a moment of gathering catastrophe. Over 270,000 Rohingya have trudged across the border into neighboring Bangladesh since Aug. 25, living in unsustainable conditions.

America’s rot comes from within and spreads outward. Trump has spearheaded a deep-seated reversion in American political culture, what Ta-Nehisi Coates calls the movement of racism “from the euphemistic and plausibly deniable to the overt and freely claimed.” A white-nationalist president has prodded the Republican Party to implicitly embrace a white nationalist identity. Whether or not American exceptionalism was always poetry with little to ground it, its animating impulse is wasting away, leaving a world in the throes of accelerating change with fewer restraints, as the range of acceptable, legitimate conduct grows wider by the day.

The United States could echo the condemnation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; it could use its considerable weight to push Myanmar to implement the recent recommendations of Kofi Annan’s advisory commission and revise the 1982 law; it could boost foreign aid to Bangladesh. But the president does not care, and if he or his administration unexpectedly did, their words and efforts would ring unmistakably hollow.

America’s profound moral decline accentuates the difficulty of adjusting to a more fractious, multipolar world. The particular form of incompetence the U.S. President brings with him to the policymaking process does not help, and evidence of America’s continued strategic dysfunction abounds. Across a range of theaters, Trump has overseen the development of a more aggressive, less restrained military posture, but the relationship between means and ends is obscured by bellicosity for its own sake and the potential for mission creep

The conclusion of his administration’s torturous strategy review for Afghanistan and the redeployment of 4,000 troops there raises far more questions than answers, and Trump’s speech explaining the shift was almost entirely devoid of substance. In the South China Sea, the Trump administration’s decision to regularize freedom of navigation operations should be welcomed, but how clearly does the message of respect for international maritime law resonate if our actions have no moral credibility? What political objective does our bluster toward North Korea help to achieve? Most obviously, how can we deter Russian hybrid warfare in Europe if the President is determined to give Vladimir Putin political cover for tampering with our democracy in his favor?

We are still only in the beginning stages of a great American unraveling. If the first two decades of American foreign policy in the 21st century can be considered a squandered moment, the coming years might well figure as a period when we helped make the world less safe, not more. Charlottesville was not the first victim of white nationalism unleashed, nor will it be the last.

Olivier Weiss is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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