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Robert O’Brien: The Return of Peace Through Strength

Donald Trump
Thought Leader: Robert O’Brien
July 8, 2024
Written by: Robert O'Brien

Making the Case for Trump’s Foreign Policy

Si vis pacem, para bellum is a Latin phrase that emerged in the fourth century that means “If you want peace, prepare for war.” The concept’s origin dates back even further, to the second-century Roman emperor Hadrian, to whom is attributed the axiom, “Peace through strength—or, failing that, peace through threat.”

U.S. President George Washington understood this well. “If we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known, that we are at all times ready for war,” he told Congress in 1793. The idea was echoed in President Theodore Roosevelt’s famous dictum: “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” And as a candidate for president, Ronald Reagan borrowed directly from Hadrian when he promised to achieve “peace through strength”—and later delivered on that promise.

In 2017, President Donald Trump brought this ethos back to the White House after the Obama era, during which the United States had a president who felt it necessary to apologize for the alleged sins of American foreign policy and sapped the strength of the U.S. military. That ended when Trump took office. As he proclaimed to the UN General Assembly in September 2020, the United States was “fulfilling its destiny as peacemaker, but it is peace through strength.”

And Trump was a peacemaker—a fact obscured by false portrayals of him but perfectly clear when one looks at the record. Just in the final 16 months of his administration, the United States facilitated the Abraham Accords, bringing peace to Israel and three of its neighbors in the Middle East plus Sudan; Serbia and Kosovo agreed to U.S.-brokered economic normalization; Washington successfully pushed Egypt and key Gulf states to settle their rift with Qatar and end their blockade of the emirate; and the United States entered into an agreement with the Taliban that prevented any American combat deaths in Afghanistan for nearly the entire final year of the Trump administration.

Trump was determined to avoid new wars and endless counterinsurgency operations, and his presidency was the first since that of Jimmy Carter in which the United States did not enter a new war or expand an existing conflict. Trump also ended one war with a rare U.S. victory, wiping out the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) as an organized military force and eliminating its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

But unlike during Carter’s term, under Trump, U.S. adversaries did not exploit Americans’ preference for peace. In the Trump years, Russia did not press further forward after its 2014 invasion of Ukraine, Iran did not dare to directly attack Israel, and North Korea stopped testing nuclear weapons after a combination of diplomatic outreach and a U.S. military show of force. And although China maintained an aggressive posture during Trump’s time in office, its leadership surely noted Trump’s determination to enforce redlines when, for example, he ordered a limited but effective air attack on Syria in 2017, after Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons against its own people.

A second Trump term would see the return of realism with a Jacksonian flavor.

Trump has never aspired to promulgate a “Trump Doctrine” for the benefit of the Washington foreign policy establishment. He adheres not to dogma but to his own instincts and to traditional American principles that run deeper than the globalist orthodoxies of recent decades. “America first is not America alone” is a mantra often repeated by Trump administration officials, and for good reason: Trump recognizes that a successful foreign policy requires joining forces with friendly governments and people elsewhere. The fact that Trump took a new look at which countries and groups were most pertinent does not make him purely transactional or an isolationist hostile to alliances, as his critics claim. NATO and U.S. cooperation with Japan, Israel, and the Arab Gulf states were all militarily strengthened when Trump was president.

Trump’s foreign policy and trade policy can be accurately understood as a reaction to the shortcomings of neoliberal internationalism, or globalism, as practiced from the early 1990s until 2017. Like many American voters, Trump grasped that “free trade” has been nothing of the sort in practice and in many instances involved foreign governments using high tariffs, barriers to trade, and the theft of intellectual property to harm U.S. economic and security interests. And despite hefty military spending, Washington’s national security apparatus enjoyed few victories after the 1991 Gulf War while suffering a number of notable failures in places such as Iraq, Libya, and Syria.

Trump thinks highly of his predecessor Andrew Jackson and Jackson’s approach to foreign policy: be focused and forceful when compelled to action but wary of overreach. A second Trump term would see the return of realism with a Jacksonian flavor. Washington’s friends would be more secure and more self-reliant, and its foes would once again fear American power. The United States would be strong, and there would be peace.

What Happened?

In the early 1990s, the world seemed to be on the cusp of a second “American century.” The Iron Curtain had fallen, and the countries of Eastern Europe had cashiered communism and abandoned the Warsaw Pact, lining up to join Western Europe and the rest of the free world. The Soviet Union passed into history in 1991. Holdouts to the tide of freedom, such as China, seemed set to liberalize, at least economically, and posed no imminent threat to the United States. The Gulf War vindicated the previous decade’s U.S. military buildup and helped confirm that the world had just one superpower.

Contrast that situation to today. China has become a formidable military and economic adversary. It routinely threatens democratic Taiwan. Its coast guard and de facto maritime militia are in a prolonged state of low-intensity conflict with the Philippines, a treaty ally of the United States, which could spark a wider war in the South China Sea. Beijing is now Washington’s foremost foe in cyberspace, regularly attacking U.S. business and government networks. China’s unfair trade and business practices have harmed the American economy and made the United States dependent on China for manufactured goods and even some essential pharmaceuticals. And although China’s model has nothing like the ideological appeal to Third World revolutionaries and Western radicals that Soviet communism held in the mid-twentieth century, China’s political leadership under Xi Jinping nonetheless has had enough confidence to reverse economic reforms, crush freedom in Hong Kong, and pick fights with Washington and many of its partners. Xi is China’s most dangerous leader since the murderous Mao Zedong. And China has yet to be held to account for the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in Wuhan.

China now has a committed and useful junior partner in Moscow, as well. In 2018, a year after leaving office as vice president, Joe Biden co-authored an article in these pages titled “How to Stand Up to the Kremlin.” But Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 demonstrated that Moscow was hardly deterred by his tough talk. The war has also exposed the shameful truth that NATO’s European members are unprepared for a new combat environment that combines innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence with low-tech but lethal drones and century-old artillery.

Joining China and Russia in an emerging axis of anti-American autocracies is Iran. Like the regimes in Beijing and Moscow, the theocracy in Tehran has grown bolder. With seeming impunity, its leaders frequently threaten the United States and its allies. Iran has now amassed enough enriched uranium to build a basic nuclear weapon in less than two weeks, if it chose to do so, according to the most authoritative estimates. Iran’s proxies, including Hamas, kidnap and kill Americans. And in April, for the first time, Iran attacked Washington’s closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, directly from Iranian territory, firing hundreds of drones and missiles.

The picture closer to home is hardly any better. In Mexico, drug cartels form a parallel government in some areas and traffic people and illegal drugs into the United States. Venezuela is a belligerent basket case. And the Biden administration’s inability to secure the southern U.S. border is perhaps its biggest and most embarrassing failure.

Clarity on China

This morass of American weakness and failure cries out for a Trumpian restoration of peace through strength. Nowhere is that need more urgent than in the contest with China.

From the beginning of his presidential term, Biden has sent mixed messages about the threat posed by Beijing. Although Biden has retained tariffs and export controls enacted by Trump, he has also sent cabinet-level officials on a series of visits to Beijing, where they have delivered firm warnings about trade and security but also extended an olive branch, promising to restore some forms of the cooperation with China that existed before the Trump administration. This is a policy of pageantry over substance. Meetings and summits are activities, not achievements.

Meanwhile, Beijing pays close attention to what the president and his top advisers say in public. Biden has referred to China’s economy as a “ticking time bomb” but also stated plainly, “I don’t want to contain China” and “We’re not looking to hurt China—sincerely. We’re all better off if China does well.” To believe such pablum is to believe that China is not truly an adversary.

The Chinese Communist Party seeks to expand its power and security by supplanting the United States as the global leader in technological development and innovation in critical areas such as electric vehicles, solar power, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. To do so, Beijing relies on enormous subsidies, intellectual property theft, and unfair trade practices. In the automotive industry, for example, Beijing has backed national champions such as BYD, which it has showered with subsidies and encouraged to dump millions of cheap electric vehicles into markets in the United States and allied countries, with the goal of bankrupting automakers from Seoul to Tokyo to Detroit to Bavaria.

Trump and other G-20 leaders in Hamburg, Germany, July 2017
Carlos Barria / Reuters

To maintain its competitive edge in the face of this onslaught, the United States must remain the best place in the world to invest, innovate, and do business. But the increasing authority of the U.S. regulatory state, including overaggressive antitrust enforcement, threatens to destroy the American system of free enterprise. Even as Chinese companies receive unfair support from Beijing to put American companies out of business, the governments of the United States and its European allies are making it harder for those same American companies to compete. This is a recipe for national decline; Western governments should abandon these unnecessary regulations.

As China seeks to undermine American economic and military strength, Washington should return the favor—just as it did during the Cold War, when it worked to weaken the Soviet economy. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said that a “full economic separation [from China] is neither practical nor desirable” and that the United States “reject[s] the idea that we should decouple our economy from China.” But Washington should, in fact, seek to decouple its economy from China’s. Without describing it as such, Trump began a de facto policy of decoupling by enacting higher tariffs on about half of Chinese exports to America, leaving Beijing the option to resume normal trade if it changed its conduct—an opportunity it did not take. Now is the time to press even further, with a 60 percent tariff on Chinese goods, as Trump has advocated, and tougher export controls on any technology that might be of use to China.

Of course, Washington should keep open lines of communication with Beijing, but the United States should focus its Pacific diplomacy on allies such as Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea, traditional partners such as Singapore, and emerging ones such as Indonesia and Vietnam. Critics suggest that Trump’s calls for U.S. allies in Asia to contribute more to their own defense might worry them. On the contrary: my discussions with officials in the region have revealed that they would welcome more of Trump’s plain talk about the need for alliances to be two-way relationships and that they believe his approach would enhance security.

The true source of tumult in the Middle East is Iran’s theocratic regime.

Joint military exercises with such countries are essential. Trump disinvited China from the annual Rim of the Pacific war games in 2018: a good defensive team does not invite its most likely opponent to witness planning and practice. (China, naturally, sent spy ships to observe.) Congress indicated in 2022 that the United States should invite Taiwan to join the exercises. But Biden has refused to do so—a mistake that must be remedied.

Taiwan spends around $19 billion annually on its defense, which amounts to just under three percent of its annual economic output. Although that is better than most U.S. allies and partners, it is still too little. Other countries in this increasingly dangerous region also need to spend more. And Taiwan’s shortcoming is not solely its own fault: past U.S. administrations have sent mixed signals about Washington’s willingness to supply Taiwan with arms and help defend it. The next administration should make clear that along with a continued U.S. commitment comes an expectation that Taiwan spend more on defense and take other steps, as well, such as expanding military conscription.

Meanwhile, Congress should help build up the armed forces of Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam by extending to them the kinds of grants, loans, and weapons transfers that the United States has long offered Israel. The Philippines, in particular, needs rapid support in its standoff with Chinese forces in the South China Sea. The navy should undertake a crash program to refurbish decommissioned ships and then donate them to the Philippines, including frigates and amphibious assault ships sitting in reserve in Philadelphia and Hawaii.

The navy should also move one of its aircraft carriers from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and the Pentagon should consider deploying the entire Marine Corps to the Pacific, relieving it in particular of missions in the Middle East and North Africa. U.S. bases in the Pacific often lack adequate missile defenses and fighter jet protection—a scandalous deficiency that the Defense Department should fix by quickly shifting resources from elsewhere.

The Return of Maximum Pressure

Another region where the Biden administration has demonstrated little strength and thus brought little peace is the Middle East. Biden entered office determined to ostracize Saudi Arabia for human rights violations—but also to resume the Obama-era policy of negotiating with Iran, a far worse violator of human rights. This approach alienated Saudi Arabia, an important partner and energy exporter, and did nothing to tame Iran, which has become demonstrably more violent in the past four years. Allies in the Middle East and beyond saw these actions as evidence of American weakness and unreliability and have pursued foreign policies more independent of Washington. Iran itself has felt free to attack Israel, U.S. forces, and American partners through proxies and directly.

In contrast, the Trump administration carried out a campaign of maximum pressure on Iran, including by insisting that European countries comply with U.S. and UN sanctions on the Islamic Republic. This show of resolve rallied important U.S. partners such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and paved the way for the Abraham Accords. When U.S. allies see renewed American determination to contain the Islamist regime in Tehran, they will join with Washington and help bring peace to a region that is crucial to energy markets and global capital markets.

Unfortunately, the opposite has occurred during the Biden administration, which has failed to enforce existing sanctions on Iranian oil exports. In recent months, those exports reached a six-year high, exceeding 1.5 million barrels per day. The easing of sanctions enforcement has been a bonanza for Iran’s government and its military, netting them tens of billions of dollars a year. Restoring the Trump crackdown will curtail Iran’s ability to fund terrorist proxy forces in the Middle East and beyond.

Trump and Xi at a G-20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 2019
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Biden’s problems began in the Middle East when he tried to reenter the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal that Trump pulled out of in 2018, having recognized it as a failure. Far from eliminating or even freezing Iran’s nuclear program, the deal had sanctified it, allowing Iran to retain centrifuges that it has used to amass nearly enough uranium for a bomb. A return to Trump’s policy of maximum pressure would include the full enforcement of U.S. sanctions on Iran’s energy sector, applying them not only to Iran but also to governments and organizations that buy Iranian oil and gas. Maximum pressure would also mean deploying more maritime and aviation assets to the Middle East, making it clear not only to Tehran but also to American allies that the U.S. military’s focus in the region was on deterring Iran, finally moving past the counterinsurgency orientation of the past two decades.

A stronger policy to counter Iran would also lead to a more productive approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is once again roiling the region. For decades, the conventional wisdom held that resolving that dispute was the key to improving security in the Middle East. But the conflict has become more of a symptom than a cause of tumult in the region, the true source of which is Iran’s revolutionary, theocratic regime. Tehran provides critical funding, arms, intelligence, and strategic guidance to an array of groups that threaten Israel’s security—not just Hamas, which sparked the current war in Gaza with its barbaric October 7 attack on Israel, but also the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah and the Houthi militia in Yemen. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be solved until Iran is contained—and until Palestinian extremists stop trying to eliminate the Jewish state.

In the meantime, the United States should continue to back Israel as it seeks to eliminate Hamas in Gaza. The long-term governance and status of the territory are not for Washington to dictate; the United States should support Israel, Egypt, and U.S. allies in the Gulf as they grapple with that problem. But Washington should not pressure Israel to return to negotiations over a long-term solution to the broader conflict with the Palestinians. The focus of U.S. policy in the Middle East should remain the malevolent actor that is ultimately most responsible for the turmoil and killing: the Iranian regime.

From Kabul to Kyiv

Biden also drastically weakened American statecraft through his catastrophic mismanagement of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Trump administration negotiated the deal that brought an end to U.S. involvement in the war, but Trump would never have allowed for such a chaotic and embarrassing retreatOne can draw a direct line from the fecklessness of the pullout in the summer of 2021 to the decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to attack Ukraine six months later. After Russia brushed off Biden’s warnings about the consequences of invading Ukraine and attacked anyway, Biden offered Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky the means to leave Kyiv, which would have repeated Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s ignominious flight from Kabul the summer before. Fortunately, Zelensky declined the offer.

The Biden administration has since provided significant military aid to Ukraine but has often dragged its feet in sending Kyiv the kinds of weapons it needs to succeed. The $61 billion Congress recently appropriated for Ukraine—on top of the $113 billion already approved—is probably sufficient to prevent Ukraine from losing, but not enough to enable it to win. Meanwhile, Biden does not seem to have a plan to end the war.

Trump, for his part, has made clear that he would like to see a negotiated settlement to the war that ends the killing and preserves the security of Ukraine. Trump’s approach would be to continue to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, financed by European countries, while keeping the door open to diplomacy with Russia—and keeping Moscow off balance with a degree of unpredictability. He would also push NATO to rotate ground and air forces to Poland to augment its capabilities closer to Russia’s border and to make unmistakably clear that the alliance will defend all its territory from foreign aggression.

Washington should make sure that its European allies understand that the continued American defense of Europe is contingent on Europe doing its part—including in Ukraine. If Europe wants to show that it is serious about defending Ukraine, it should admit the country to the European Union immediately, waiving the usual bureaucratic accession protocol. Such a move would send a strong message to Putin that the West will not cede Ukraine to Moscow. It would also give hope to the Ukrainian people that better days lie ahead.

A Military in Decline

As China has risen, the Middle East has burned, and Russia has rampaged in Ukraine, the U.S. military has resumed a gradual decline that began during the Obama administration before pausing during Trump’s time in office. Last year, only the Marine Corps and the Space Force met their recruiting goals. The army fell an astounding 10,000 recruits short of its modest goal of adding 65,000 soldiers to maintain its current size. The deficiency is not just a personnel problem; it speaks to a lack of confidence that young Americans and their families have in the purpose and mission of the military.

Meanwhile, the military increasingly lacks the tools it needs to defend the United States and its interests. The navy now has fewer than 300 ships, compared with 592 at the end of the Reagan administration. That is not enough to maintain conventional deterrence through naval presence in the 18 maritime regions of the world that U.S. combatant commanders have identified as strategically important. Congress and the executive branch should recommit to the goal of having a 355-ship navy by 2032, which Trump set in 2017. This modestly larger navy must include more stealthy Virginia-class attack submarines. Also crucial are more Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, which form one part of the so-called nuclear triad—the equipment and systems that allow Washington to deploy nuclear weapons from the air, land, and sea.

Other parts of the triad need improvement, as well. For example, Congress must appropriate funds for all 100 planned units of the B-21 stealth bomber that is under development, to replace the aging B-2 bomber. In fact, some analysts have argued that the air force needs no fewer than 256 of these penetrating strike bombers to carry out a sustainable campaign against a peer competitor. To avoid the procurement problems experienced with the B-2, which left the air force with a fleet of just 21 aircraft instead of the 132 originally planned, both the air force and the appropriate congressional committees must work to ensure a stable production process.

The triad has become more important in recent years as China and Russia have modernized their nuclear arsenals. China has doubled the size of its arsenal since 2020: a massive, unexplained, and unwarranted expansion. The United States has to maintain technical and numerical superiority to the combined Chinese and Russian nuclear stockpiles. To do so, Washington must test new nuclear weapons for reliability and safety in the real world for the first time since 1992—not just by using computer models. If China and Russia continue to refuse to engage in good-faith arms control talks, the United States should also resume production of uranium-235 and plutonium-239, the primary fissile isotopes of nuclear weapons.

Trump greeting U.S. military personnel in Yokosuka, Japan, May 2019
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

The U.S. conventional arsenal also needs to be transformed. The Trump administration revived the development of hypersonic missiles, funding for which President Barack Obama drastically reduced in 2011, leaving China and Russia far ahead of the United States in acquiring these important new weapons that travel at more than five times the speed of sound and can maneuver within the earth’s atmosphere. A second Trump term would see massive investments in this critical technology.

Restoring the military will take the energetic involvement of the president and congressional leadership because civilian and uniformed personnel are incapable of fixing the Pentagon themselves. (Trump often pushed for innovation in the face of bureaucratic inertia fostered by senior-level civilian officials at the Defense Department.) But fundamental change must account for the reality of limited budgets. Thanks to unsustainable levels of borrowing, the federal budget will have to decline, and large increases to defense expenditures are unlikely regardless of which party controls the White House and Congress. Spending smarter will have to substitute for spending more in a contemporary strategy of peace through strength.

Fixing the military requires major reforms to the armed forces’ acquisition processes, both for itself and for allied militaries. In recent decades, important projects such as the Zumwalt destroyer, the Littoral Combat Ship, the F-35 fighter, and the KC-46 tanker aircraft arrived years late and vastly over budget. In the 1950s, in contrast, Lockheed delivered the first U-2 spy aircraft less than a year and a half after getting the contract—and completed it under budget. Such an accomplishment would be inconceivable today because of status quo attitudes in most of the services, congressional dysfunction that makes budgeting and planning difficult, and a lack of vision on the part of the secretaries of the armed forces.

Another fundamental problem with military procurement is the Pentagon’s irrational system of developing requirements for new weapons. Requirements are easy to add and hard to remove. The result is highly sophisticated weapons, but ones that are expensive and take years to field. For example, in the early and mid-1990s, when the navy was designing its current class of aircraft carriers, it added a requirement for an electromagnetic aircraft launch system—a technology that did not exist at the time. The decision, which Trump criticized in 2017, added significant costs and delays. The senior civilian leadership in the Pentagon must reform the process by establishing a new rule that any significant alteration in design that may add cost or time to the development of essential systems must be authorized by them and them alone.

The United States should take inspiration from procurement systems in allies such as Australia, where a lean bureaucracy has developed the Ghost Bat unmanned aerial combat vehicle and the Ghost Shark unmanned underwater vehicle at low cost and without the massive delays that hold back U.S. procurement. Nimble newer defense suppliers such as Anduril and Palantir—companies rooted in the innovative tech sector—could also help the Pentagon develop procurement processes better suited to the twenty-first century.

Know Your Enemy—and Your Friends

A more efficient military alone, however, will not be enough to thwart and deter the new Beijing-Moscow-Tehran axis. Doing so will also require strong alliances among the free countries of the world. Building alliances will be just as important in a second Trump term as it was in the first one. Although critics often depicted Trump as hostile to traditional alliances, in reality, he enhanced most of them. Trump never canceled or postponed a single deployment to NATO. His pressure on NATO governments to spend more on defense made the alliance stronger.

Biden administration officials like to pay lip service to the importance of alliances, and Biden says that he believes the United States is engaged in a contest pitting allied democracies against rival autocracies. But the administration undermines its own putative mission when it questions the democratic bona fides of conservative elected leaders in countries allied with the United States, including the former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Polish President Andrzej Duda. In fact, these leaders are responsive to the desires of their people and seek to defend democracy, but through policies different from those espoused by the kind of people who like to hobnob in Davos. The Biden administration, however, seems less interested in fostering good relations with real-world democratic allies than in defending fictional abstractions such as “the rules-based international order.” Such rhetoric reflects a globalist, liberal elitism that masquerades as support for democratic ideals.

Criticism of those democratic leaders is all the more galling when compared with how little attention Biden officials pay to dissidents in authoritarian states. The president and his top aides seldom follow the approach of former presidents who spotlighted detained dissidents to illustrate authoritarian abuses and highlight the superiority of the free world’s model of inalienable individual rights and the rule of law. Carter personally wrote to the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. Reagan met with the Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky in the Oval Office and met with others in the U.S. embassy in Moscow. In contrast, Biden has rarely spoken publicly about individual dissidents—people such as Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong publisher and democracy advocate whom Chinese officials have imprisoned on sham charges. Although the State Department has issued protestations about China’s treatment of its citizens, they have come against a backdrop of high-level, unconditional engagement with China that features no serious human rights component.

Trump’s pressure on NATO governments to spend more on defense made the alliance stronger.

Trump, for his part, preferred to focus more on Americans unjustly detained abroad than on dissidents, in an effort to build relationships with foreign leaders and give dictators such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un a chance to come in from the cold. But he did pay attention to opposition forces in authoritarian states that are U.S. rivals. In January 2020, after I publicly expressed hope that the people of Iran would someday be able to choose their own leaders, Trump followed up on social media: “Don’t kill your protestors,” he admonished the theocrats in Tehran. A second Trump term would see stepped-up presidential-level attention to dissidents and political forces that can challenge U.S. adversaries. This effort would build on past actions, such as when Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and other senior officials met with activists seeking freedom in China and when Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger addressed the Chinese people in Mandarin from the White House and gave voice to many of their concerns about the repressive rule of the Chinese Communist Party.

Some might say that it is hypocritical for the United States to condemn some repressive governments, such as those in China and Iran, while partnering with others, such as Arab nondemocracies. But it is important to consider countries’ capacities to change. Most Arab monarchies today are more open and liberal than they were ten or 20 years ago—partly because of engagement with the United States. The same cannot be said of the Chinese or Iranian governments, which have become more repressive and aggressive toward their neighbors.

The United States is not perfect, and its security does not require every nation on earth to resemble it politically. Throughout much of U.S. history, most Americans believed it was sufficient to stand as a model to others rather than to attempt to impose a political system on others. But Americans should not underestimate what their country has achieved or downplay the success of the American experiment in lifting people at home and abroad out of repression, poverty, and insecurity.

Can an American revival occur today in a divided nation, when polls indicate that a vast majority of citizens believe their country is on the wrong track? As Reagan’s election in 1980 demonstrated, the United States can always turn things around. In November, the American people will have the opportunity to return to office a president who restored peace through strength—and who can do it again. If they do, the country has the resources, the ingenuity, and the courage to rebuild its national power, securing its freedom and once again becoming the last best hope for humankind.

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