Since the end of World War II, the United States has led global diplomatic efforts to build alliances and institutions to promote peace and prosperity. Washington has been among the chief architects of the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as many other international institutions.
These institutions have had their critics, with some arguing they undermine U.S. sovereignty and others alleging they favor special interests. But there has generally been a consensus in Washington that this multilateral order has been a net positive, for both the United States and the world.
President Donald J. Trump, however, has taken the criticism to new heights, complaining that the traditional U.S. alliances are not worth the cost, feuding with the European Union and other allies, and threatening to withdraw from institutions, such as the WTO, that he believes unduly constrain U.S. behavior. At the same time, he has pressed for deep cuts to foreign assistance programs, which have largely been blocked by Congress. The president’s allies say it is high time for an America First foreign policy, while his detractors say it is in effect a retreat from the world stage. His Democratic challengers are unified in promising to recommit to U.S. allies, rejoin international agreements from which Trump has withdrawn, and increase funding for the diplomatic corps and foreign aid programs.