On a brisk November day, a Democratic president — often decried as aloof and professorial — arrived in the French capital to finalize the negotiations around a central achievement of his presidency. In the third year of his second term, this president, whom history will remember (somewhat ironically) as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, had fought tooth and nail to craft this agreement according to his vision. If successful, it would lay the groundwork to address perhaps the world’s most pressing crisis through a new system for international cooperation and mutual verification.
Despite the president’s best efforts, a Republican Senate thwarted him at every turn, refusing to even consider approving his new agreement. And barely a year later, a Republican won a commanding victory in the presidential election, shifting the nation away from his proactive engagement with the wider world. This rejection of the liberal international order harkened a new era of isolationism. While it didn’t look like the agreement would fall apart immediately, the enormous, United States-shaped hole in its foundation left open the potential for it all to collapse like a Jenga tower.Read more