Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy:
America’s leaders may have had the best of intentions, but the strategy they pursued was mostly a failure. Relations with Russia and China today are worse than at any time since the Cold War, and the two Asian giants are once again colluding against us. Hopes for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians have been dashed, and the rest of the Middle East is as divided as it has ever been. North Korea, India, and Pakistan have all tested nuclear weapons and expanded their nuclear stockpiles, while Iran has gone from zero enrichment capacity in 1993 to being nearly a nuclear weapons state today. Democracy is in retreat worldwide, violent extremists are active in more places, the European Union is wobbling, and the uneven benefits of globalization have produced a powerful backlash against the liberal economic order that the United States had actively promoted.
All of these trends were well underway long before Trump became president. But many of them would have been less likely or less pronounced had the United States chosen a different path.
In Europe, the United States could have resisted the siren song of NATO expansion and stuck with the original “Partnership for Peace,” a set of security arrangements that included Russia. Over time, it could have gradually drawn down its military presence and turned European security back over to the Europeans. Russia’s leaders would not have felt as threatened, would not have fought Georgia or seized Crimea, and would have had little or no reason to interfere in the U.S. election in 2016. As the European Union took on a greater security role, states like Poland and Hungary might have been less inclined to flirt with authoritarianism under the safety blanket of U.S. security guarantees.
A wiser United States would have let Iraq and Iran check each other instead of attempting “dual containment” in the Persian Gulf, eliminating the need to keep thousands of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War. Had Washington also made its support for Israel and the Palestinian Authority conditional on both sides making steady progress toward “two states for two peoples,” the two principal sources of Osama bin Laden’s murderous antipathy toward America would have been removed, making the 9/11 attacks much less likely. And with no 9/11, we almost surely would not have had invaded and occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, thereby saving several trillion dollars and thousands of U.S. and foreign lives.