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Some of this (missteps by the administration) may be attributed to inexperience. But there is a thread running through it all that suggests an overarching design based on two assumptions. The first is that America cannot afford the costs of aid and diplomacy. The second is that multilateral institutions make America weaker. Both are wildly mistaken.
No doubt some of the money spent on aid and diplomacy is wasted. But they account for only 1% of federal expenditure, and cutting them could do great harm. Aid helps make poor countries richer and therefore more stable. Soft power is cheaper than hard power, and nearly always a necessary complement to it. For example, after America helps its Iraqi allies to defeat Islamic State, it will need diplomacy and aid to make sure that the terrorist group does not make a comeback. Mr Trump’s secretary of defence, General James Mattis, once put it well: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”
Multilateral institutions such as the UN, World Trade Organisation, IMF and World Bank may occasionally constrain America, but overall they enhance its influence. Most have their headquarters in America. And yes, Uncle Sam foots a disproportionate share of the bills. Yet this has also given Americans exceptional sway over global rules covering everything from trade to security. Walk away, and the result will not be a better deal. It will be China first and America’s allies diminished; not peace through strength so much as weakness somehow conjured out of primacy.