Idealism can’t be the only driver in our foreign policy, of course. Fifteen years back we were told that freedom is written on everyone’s heart. It’s not, and the failure of George W. Bush’s wars should have inoculated us against buying into such liberal fantasies.
But there is a danger of overcompensating against George Bush’s idealism.
The rancor of our politics has turned Americans into binary thinkers. It has to be all one way or all another way. Either you are an absolute economic nationalist, or else you don’t care about Americans at all. But life is messier than that, and you don’t have to drive into the tree on the left to avoid the car accident on the right.
Nobody thinks we should trench on China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong. But that’s not the only option. We can also signal that we expect them to honor the 1997 accord. We don’t have to spell out the consequences, just let them know that there would be some. That’s what Trump telegraphed with his tweets. But he can, and should, do more.