The wild ride of President Donald Trump kicked off in high gear during the first week of the Trump administration. He has shown no signs of retracting his promises of reducing U.S global engagement. Trump has already signed a few executive orders, including one that removes the U.S from the Trans Pacific Trade agreement. He has stuck by his view that ‘America first’ should be the chief policy in all matters, domestic and international, and that all nations to shift towards a nationalistic agenda.
Trump, during his inaugural address, had the choice to reassert America’s leadership role in guiding the rest of the world during treacherous times. At a time of global uncertainty and increasing regional instability, this rhetoric would have been beneficial. However, the real estate tycoon called for a free-for-all foreign policy agenda, with little consequences for those countries that choose to recklessly pursue their interests even at the cost of others. Unequivocally stating, “the right of all nations to put their own interests first.” Which I bet makes Putin smile as he leads an increasingly aggressive Russia towards Europe, and scares many of our European and Middle Eastern allies.
Trump promises not “to impose our way of life on anyone.” Which many see as a direct repudiation to former President George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Both former presidents oversaw an American foreign policy entrenched in costly national building projects in Iraq and Afghanistan and heavily promoted Democratic ideals around the globe.
Obama tried to reshift America’s global role with his “pivot” to Asia. However, Trump is going further than just shifting America’s role from one part of the globe to another. He is scaling back. Trump leaves no questions unanswered that spreading Democratic ideals and participation to every corner of the world will not be a hallmark of American foreign policy.
Furthermore, he reaffirms a paranoiac isolationist perspective popular among his base, but has luke-warm reception among traditional conservatives. Saying that “we must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries…stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.” A nearly impossible feat considering the irreversible rise of globalization.
Trump aligns himself into a direct collision course with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said in a response to Trump that, “whether you like it or not, the global economy is the big ocean that you cannot escape from.” In addition to a warning that any attempt to do so “is simply not possible,” even though the Chinese would benefit from an America with reduced global engagement.
Despite a vague promise to “reinforce old alliances,” Trump asks that all nations pursue a nationalistic agenda with a reduction of American participation around the world. This is the equivalent of asking 195 soloists to play their own tracks without a conductor and expect peacefully coordinated music.
However, anyone who’s read The Art of The Deal knows that shockingly exaggerating demands then scaling back in meaningless concessions is a negotiation tactic to getting the better end of deals. Critics of Trump’s foreign policy agenda should be aware of this. And remember that Trump has nothing but the best interests for America, despite what he says in public. Just because it’s said publicly, doesn’t make it policy.
Most worry, conservatives included, that Trump is falling into a dangerously false belief that two oceans are enough to protect America from global chaos. They think that America removing itself from global affairs is like watching a neighbors house catch on fire, then refusing to help put it out before it spreads to your house.
Henry Kissinger argued that with an eroding E.U, a Middle East ablaze, tensions in Eastern Europe and the South China sea, and an ever increasing threat of cyberattacks, the world needs a conductor now more than ever.
For those concerned, it would be a good reminder that Trump’s cabinet is filled with two pragmatic Generals who harbor no illusions of the threats facing America; John Kelly at Department of Homeland Security and James Mattis at Department of Defense. The only question left is how much influence will they exert under a White House with multiple centers of power that are all competing for Trump’s ears.