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(BLOOMINGTON, Ind.) — A top member of President Obama’s national security team says

President-elect Biden will need to rebuild America’s alliances to regain U.S. influence on global


Ben Rhodes was an assistant to former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton before becoming deputy

national security adviser. He took questions from his old boss at Indiana University’s annual

“America’s Role in the World” conference. Rhodes has been a frequent and vocal critic of President

Trump, and says President Trump’s disdain for alliances has left those relationships in the worst

shape he’s ever seen.

Rhodes, who now co-hosts the “Pod Save the World” podcast, argues that antagonism carries a cost, even in areas where the professed goal of a unilateral approach was to assert American interests. He points to Trump’s focus on punishing China for unfair trade practices. Instead of a tit-for-tat tariff war, Rhodes says, a coordinated effort with European and Asian allies could have brought the U.S. to the negotiating table with half the global economy as backup to pressure China to play by the rules.

But Rhodes says the U.S.’s standing in the world has been diminished less by specific policies than

by a shift in America’s overall image. He contends Trump’s anti-immigration policies have damaged

U.S. credibility as the standardbearer for freedom. And he says the administration’s unpredictability

has damaged its ability to negotiate agreements.

Rhodes says it was inevitable the U.S. would lose some international clout after the Cold War,

with the rise of China on the world stage and Russia’s efforts to reassert itself. He says the aftermath

of 9/11 accelerated that trend, arguing the Iraq War cost the U.S. credibility. And Rhodes says the

intense focus on fighting terrorism meant less attention to issues other countries considered top

priorities, from economic growth to climate change.

Rhodes says the war on terror has had an impact on domestic politics as well. He says voters have

increasingly treated foreign policy as synonymous with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as

frustration with those conflicts has grown, it’s reduced public support for internationalism in other