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A Modest Hope for the Post-Trump World Order

As consequential as the upcoming US election is, the relentless hype has fueled expectations that it must be followed by some grand or revolutionary transformation. A far more plausible hope is that, once the dust settles, international relations gets back to basics.

MADRID – With the US presidential election nearing its apotheosis, predictions about what will come after are dominating discussions well beyond the United States. When it comes to international relations, forecasts range from apocalyptic to cautiously optimistic. But what is needed is an actual way forward, grounded in realism.

By realism, I don’t mean the “realist” approach to international relations, which emphasizes the role of sovereign states as self-interested actors. By that standard, some have argued that while US President Donald Trump has bumbled and flailed, he has also managed to rein in an out-of-control foreign-policy establishment that has consistently failed to advance America’s interests, at least since the turn of the century.

Other so-called realists have acknowledged Trump’s utter failure in the foreign-policy arena, but insist that this has created an opportunity for a much-needed reset. They, too, advocate a more restrained strategy, in which the US takes a hands-off approach wherever possible. A policy of “offshore balancing,” for example, would have the US empowering partners to advance its interests and restrain hostile actors in their respective regions. (China may already be pursuing such an approach, to some extent.)

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