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Liberalism in the Trenches

MADRID – After a dizzying few months, in which Donald Trump’s young presidency called into question the entire post-World War II global order, the geopolitical status quo appears to have reemerged. But this is no time for complacency: the liberal world order remains far from secure.

To be sure, recent developments are encouraging. Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who was the executive chairman of Breitbart News, appears to be losing influence, and may even be on his way out. The once-marginalized Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is now Trump’s closest cabinet member. The respected H.R. McMaster has replaced the questionable Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser. The adults, it seems, are back in charge.

This shift has been reflected in policy. The Trump administration may have recognized that it cannot assume an entirely inward-looking foreign policy. Its demonstrative (but not damaging) use of cruise missiles in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s contemptible chemical attack on his own people was a decision taken straight from former President Bill Clinton’s playbook.

Moreover, Trump’s aggressive rhetoric toward China has given way to a more cooperative approach, driven largely by shared concerns over North Korea. Russia has been returned (at least publicly) to its traditional role as the West’s bête noire, while NATO, the security bedrock of Western liberalism, has made a remarkable and speedy recovery from obsolescence.