The world is a better place when we have a strong, stable, prosperous United States that is productively engaged in the international community. That does not mean we ought to become, nor should we be expected to be, the sole policeman of the international order: That wouldn’t make sense for either the U.S. or the world as a whole. While we are still truly the planet’s sole superpower, and thus are able to exert influence around the globe to a degree that no other nation can, we are also one nation with its own self-interests to consider first. That may not always work out perfectly well for the rest of the world, but both historically and today, it beats the alternative.

That has been made abundantly clear in recent years as Russia and China have sought to expand their power and influence. While the U.S. generally promotes peace and stability, since that’s in our best interests as the wealthiest democracy, they have done the exact opposite. China has taken an economic approach to expanding its influence through its Belt and Road Initiative, which is painted as a global economic development project but often leaves countries indebted – politically and/or financially – to Beijing. Russia has taken a more direct approach, intervening either directly militarily (in the case of several of its neighbors) or covertly in other nations’ domestic affairs, with its interference in our 2016 elections being an obvious example of the latter.

That’s why it’s so vitally important that the United States not meekly retreat into isolationism and re-design itself as Fortress America. It’s easy to see why that approach is so appealing to so many people, but it’s overly simplistic and inherently unrealistic. The idea has had appeal to both the far left and the far right over the years, and been used as campaign rhetoric by political candidates in both parties, but it’s not realistic to actually implement it as a policy.

It’s unrealistic simply because the United States does not exist in a vacuum: We never have, and we never will. We’re one country in a world that is increasingly becoming more and more interconnected day by day.

That means that any time we withdraw from anywhere else in the world, whether politically, economically or militarily, that area won’t be left alone, or suddenly develop into a vibrant, stable democracy of its own accord. Instead, some other major power will rush in to fill the void, and  it will do so to the detriment of our national interests. That’s not something we really can just completely ignore, nor should we.

Rather than either total isolationism or endless engagement, the United States needs to take the middle path of engaging with the world in a way that promotes not just our own self-interests, but also democracy and stability. Most presidents realize this eventually, which is why so many use isolationist rhetoric on the campaign trail but back away from it once they’re in office. Donald Trump might seem like an exception to that trend, but he’s really not: Most of his campaign-trail rhetoric about foreign policy hasn’t been implemented in office.

He hasn’t withdrawn from NATO, the United Nations, the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. Those would be dramatic moves that would completely upend the global postwar order – something Russia and China would absolutely love, and that would be against our country’s best interests. Although he’s been tougher on trade than prior presidents, much of that ire has been directed toward China. And even there, he’s held off on some proposed tariffs, preferring to attempt to negotiate a settlement. Whether those talks will go anywhere is anyone’s guess, but it’s not an unreasonable approach.

Trump may not have scored any big wins on the foreign policy front, but he also hasn’t gotten us into any new military quagmires, so that’s at least put him ahead of the past two presidents. Sadly, Russia’s interference in the 2016 election – and Trump’s stubborn unwillingness to acknowledge it – undermine confidence in our basic institutions, both at home and abroad.

It would be best for the country if Trump admitted that Russia interfered in 2016, and if elected officials from both parties worked together to prevent it from happening again. The world desperately needs real American leadership, now more than ever, but we can’t do that if we’re unable to agree on even the basic facts here at home. That’s just playing into Russia’s and China’s hands.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jimfossel

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