A part of America’s foreign-policy establishment has abandoned the language of democracy and human rights.

A part of America’s foreign-policy establishment has abandoned the language of democracy and human rights.

In this effort, Xi has had assistance from other authoritarians, most notably in Russia and Iran but also in some African, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian states. Since 2017, he has also had assistance from the Trump administration. “Helping China” does not, of course, describe what the administration’s leading members think they are doing. Former Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and others have been robustly critical of Chinese behavior at the UN and elsewhere.

But the anti-Chinese rhetoric of leading Republicans has hidden a deeper truth: A part of America’s foreign-policy establishment—and not just the part affiliated with Trump—has abandoned the language of democracy and human rights that America once used at the UN. It has also given up on international institutions that much of the rest of the world continues to respect—institutions that should, in theory, be able to hold nations like China, Russia, and Iran to account. It has offered no alternatives. Instead of building stronger coalitions—or even new organizations—around common values, this part of the establishment talks about realpolitik and “America First,” using the same nationalist and authoritarian language as the autocrats whose company Trump clearly prefers. It alienates allies, and offends the countries whose support we will need to push back against authoritarian influence in the decades to come.