Since the United States established her independence from the British Empire, it took over one hundred years to get her onto the world stage as a world power. The American foreign policy like that of every other nation has always placed her own interest first, i.e. American First. Even her first major foreign policy doctrine, the Monroe doctrine, was designed to be American First. Since clearly it was to the U.S. interest to stop the various imperial powers to expand their influence especially occupation into the North and South American Continents. As a nation, the U.S. has applied the American First principle very well through the WW I and WW II eventually achieving the number one superpower status. Since the end of WW II, the U.S. has become the strongest nation in the world unchallenged.
Today, the U.S. is still the strongest nation; however, she does face a number of serious challenges in maintaining her world number one status, especially regarding her ability to control the stacking order of the world powers. The fact that President Trump got elected based on the campaign slogan, America First, is simply a reflection of the situation that the current American domestic issues and international relations have shaken the U.S. ability to control the stacking order of the world, even possibly losing her number one status. Therefore, it is necessary to retune the American First principle to revitalize America through reconstruction of the U.S. infrastructure, recharge her national productivity and redraft the US international trade agreements. President Trump’s campaign victory is basically a confirmation of the need of retuning the American First principle.
In the past 70 years post WW II, the U.S. was able to conduct her foreign policies not only in maintaining her superpower status but also in controlling the world stacking order, especially determining which nation be a distant second, a third, etc. The U.S. rightly recognized the threat of the Soviet style communism, expansionistic in nature, right after WW II; hence anti-communism has been adopted as the principal pillar of the American First principle. During the post WW II recovery period, the U.S. was suppressing the Soviet Union and reconstructing the UK, Japan, Germany and France with an obvious goal to prevent the Soviet from challenging the U.S. and to arrange a distant second, third, fourth and fifth world power. It made all the sense to offer a Marshall plan in Europe and to conduct a rebuilding Japan blue print for such a goal. In order to contain the Soviet Union, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established.
Asia was so devastated by the Japanese aggression throughout WW II. Controlling Japan was essential for controlling Asia since China and India were very weak. Even though Japan was bombed by atomic bombs, Japan was still a far more developed nation which had looted all sorts of resources from other Asian nations prior to and during WW II. It was expected that Japan could recover fast in Asia. Indeed, her economy had risen to be number two in the world next to the U.S. in the 1980’s. Will Japan ever threaten the U.S. was never out of the question in the minds of world statesmen, however, Japan had played a loyal second role honoring the American First principle especially after her economy experienced an asset bubble collapse (1986-1991) bringing her economy down to stagnation even to this date.
The post WW II anti-Soviet policy evolved into a Cold War lasted four decades or more. Eventually, the dual strategy of economic sanction and arms race between the US led NATO and Soviet led WARSAW resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. The U.S. economy started its boom from 1991, after the first Gulf War (1990-1991, oil price crisis), a high inflation spike (1988-89) and recession (1989-1991). The boom lasted for ten years, initially a jobless recovery then an investment in dot.com propelling the stock market boom until the dot.com collapsed in 2000 resulting in a recession (2001). The 9-11 terrorists attack on the New York World Trade Center occurred in 2001 and subsequently Second Gulf War (Iraq war) took place from 2003 to 2011 with the global financial crisis happened in 2008 which resulted in a slow recovery for the U.S., not yet fully recovered today.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, while Japan was in a stagnant state, her ‘lost decades’, and the U.S. was mounting huge national debt, dealing with war expense, explosive financial crisis and slow recovery, China maintained a high economic growth ranging from a double digit to an enviable 6-7% over nearly three decades. One cannot say that China’s economic performance has escaped the notice of the U.S. or Japan, rather it has been put in the back burner so to speak while dealing with their own issues, centered around decreasing national productivity related to an aging population for Japan and national debt issue caused by the Middle East War for the U.S. The Chinese government has gradually embraced the Western capitalism since the 1980’s and her economic growth indeed has generated wealth for the nation but it also has brought the typical problems of wealth gap and inequitable distribution as well as asset bubble and inflation.
Since 2011, the U.S. has advocated a ‘Pivot to Asia’, later renamed ‘Rebalancing in Asia’, presumably a policy based on American First and a goal to maintain the number one position of the U.S. and to retain control of stacking order of the world. However, the risings of China, India and even smaller nations in Asia such as Malaysia and Vietnam have changed the scenario. Controlling Japan and keeping her as a dependable number two is becoming somewhat an outdated idea. In fact, Japan’s right-wing faction currently in power is eagerly trying to revive Japan’s pre-War glory, thus the US-Japan relation even bonded by a mutual defense treaty will likely not to support a permanent US first and Japan distant second status quo. On the other hand, China, with her own China First principle (Chinese Dream), was concerned with the threatening neighbors such as Japan. China would not accept a stacking order prescribed by the U.S. In fact, the more the U.S. is pursuing the legacy approach of maintaining world stacking order, the more likely China will challenge such an order. When the U.S. is courting India and Australia as a part of the legacy strategy to suppress China, it only provokes China’s distrust of the U.S. and her intentions.
Both the U.S. and China do understand that a stable world order is in the interest of global peace and prosperity. The goal of American First, to maintain the U.S. at the number one position and keep a manageable world order is actually achievable, if the U.S. would respect China as the number two power in the world not treat it as an enemy. The G2 relationship touted before makes a lot of sense. China is a big country with 1.4 billion people but with only 800 million people lifted from poverty line. China has a long way to bring her people to middle class. On the other hand, the U.S. is a big nation having the richest resources in the world and possessing the most advanced technology and military power. China is following the U.S. footsteps to transform from a manufacturing based economy to a consumption based economy whereas the U.S. is rejuvenating her manufacturing to lessen her dependence on foreign imports. Wouldn’t you think that the U.S. and China can maintain a stable G2 relationship allowing America First and China First to coexist so that a peaceful and prosperous world would be maintained?