Incoming American presidential administrations have often secured their mandate by presenting themselves as a contrast to what went immediately before. George W Bush ran for office promising a renewed focus on ‘the national interest’ after eight years of Bill Clinton’s focus on ‘globalization’ and ‘humanitarian intervention’. Barack Obama offered the promise of a more restrained foreign policy after the failed, costly regime-change projects into which the Bush administration jumped with both feet after 9/11. There would be no repeat on his watch, Obama reassured voters, of the costly misadventure that was Iraq after 2003.
Donald Trump is in keeping with this pattern: his election has without doubt signalled a major change in the terms of the United States’ engagement with the world, and one far more pronounced than we would now be discussing if Obama had been replaced by Hillary Clinton, his former Secretary of State.