In all things Trump is cruder than Obama, more willing to make subtext into text, less (or not even remotely) detail-oriented, more careless of diplomatic norms and dismissive of humanitarian concerns. But if the two men use different rhetoric and often favor different alliances, they have both pursued the same kind of bigger-picture strategy — seeking to extricate the United States from some of its multiplying commitments, to shift our post-Cold War position away from a Pax Americana model of peace-through-hegemony and toward an “offshore balancing” approach that makes deals with erstwhile enemies and makes more demands of longtime friends. “America First” and “leading from behind” may sound very different, but they can reflect similar impulses and produce similar results.
This shared vision tends to be unpopular with the expert class in Washington — what Rhodes famously called the foreign policy “blob,” and what Trump would no doubt describe more pungently — but more popular with domestic constituencies. (Obama’s Iran deal always polled reasonably well, and Trump’s summit with Kim is by far the most popular thing he’s done in his presidency.) And the fact that the pursuit of offshore balancing has been sustained across two quite different administrations suggests that in some form it’s here to stay, and that the expert class should recognize its merits.