It’s the “America First” foreign policy Trump promised. And the results have been mixed. NAFTA was replaced. NATO budgets are up (for now). Mexico agreed to have asylum-seekers wait on its side of the border while their claims are adjudicated. China signed a “Phase One” trade deal.

But there’s a cost. Allies may accede to your demands, but resentment builds. The foundations of the alliance weaken. Unpredictability inspires fear and caution. If sustained for too long, though, it conveys irresoluteness and fecklessness. Adversaries begin to probe. They buzz flights and collapse the oil price, resume shelling U.S. troops and harassing U.S. naval vessels, begin tailing container ships in the South China Sea.

The democracies look inward. NATO is silent, the EU split, America distracted and distressed. China exploited this strategic vacuum. It launched a global disinformation campaign falsely assigning responsibility for the pandemic to the United States. Its agents pushed scurrilous and panic-inducing messages to U.S. cellphones saying that President Trump was about to impose a national lockdown policed by the National Guard. Its diplomatic “Wolf Warriors“ enforce the party line whenever foreign governments challenge Beijing’s preferred narrative.