Isolationism or internationalism is the great debate in the US. Isolationism was usually resurgent after long wars, such as WWI, the Vietnam War and after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet the US will embrace internationalism rapidly because of some fresh crisis, and the US recognizing that the costs of isolation are much greater than costs of marshaling some actions with the world. No matter whether the US prefers isolationism or internationalism, “America First” is always the principle in both paradigms, and in both Trump and Biden’s administrations.

On the one hand, Trump’s adherents, so-called MAGA militants, said the US cannot afford to aid Ukraine, because they need to deal with imperative problems at home. However, their isolationalism covered their real self-interest, which is pro-Putinism. As a transactional leader, Trump developed relationships with dictators, and one of them, Putin, helped Trump win the office in 2016. Now the US society is polarized, and pro-Russia sentiments have been implanted in MAGA militants’ minds. It will be dangerous if Trump takes office again.

On the other hand, even though the Biden administration seems pro-internationalist, actually it continued Trump’s approach. It uses the “rules-based international order” to compete with China constantly. It spurned the CPTPP and unilaterally established the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). Also, it withdrew troops from Afghanistan last year, discrediting itself to its allies. 

The United States cannot succeed through “America First” alone, it must work with others, including allies or competitors, and even cooperate with China to set international norms to tackle the common challenges such as the attacks on human rights, democracy and freedom. The hegemony cannot work if the US only wants the benefits of the international order without doing hard work of building and maintaining it. 


Written by Eddie C.

Edited by Ari B.