Trump’s Foreign Policy: Trajectory of Diversions & Dissensions?

By Syed Qamar Rizvi.

 

US President’s Donald Trump’s exclusive adventurism with regard to the US’ ventured foreign policy orientations, its goals and objectives pose a big question: Will America under Trump’s administration recollect its lost power clout in the global affairs or will it further lose its image as the global power? Though apparently, Trump’s endorsed America first doctrine is aimed at protecting US’ political and economic interests, yet intrinsically this policy is seen as the embodiment of such an American indoctrinations which futuristically seems to be undermining US’ global participatory role.

The reasons behind Trump’s disengagement mantra revolves around the argument that the U.S. economy is no longer big enough to sustain a global role of the old kind, or that domestic problems should take priority. Others ask whether the public is ready for new exertions.

But seen objectively, American “leadership,” under Trump’s America first doctrine seems to distance itself from the Obama’s projected pragmatic internationalism, US’ indoctrinated traditional narrative of collective security, and US’ conceived policy towards international integration based on balance of power. Any yet not surprisingly some pragmatic shifts are also manifested in Trump’s external relations with global powers.

During his campaign, Trump promised to disengage from burdensome commitments to other countries, shifting the risks and costs of the security of allies away from the United States. He promised to enact policies that promote U.S. national interests, which he defined as U.S. economic security, not global security. While seeing his policies’ proclivities vis- a-vis  Iran ,South Asia, Syria, North Korea, China, Russia Pacific Rim, Europe and South America , it is clearly reflected that he is yet divided, confused and unpoised on his actions what he advocated during his election campaign.

Trump accused Iran of committing “multiple violations of the agreement (JCPOA),” despite the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency, America’s European allies and even his own government say that Tehran is complying with the 2015 deal agreed by former President Barack Obama and major world powers. He accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the nuclear agreement and said his goal is to ensure Tehran never obtains a nuclear weapon, in effect throwing the fate of the deal to Congress.

He singled out Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for sanctions and delivered a blistering critique of Tehran, which he accused of destabilizing actions in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

“We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” Trump said. This volte face– in US’ policy towards Iran which has no supportive view from Germany France and the UK –may put the US policy makers in a confused and divided position futuristically. “If the Iran agreement falls, war will become much more likely – both in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula – and American lives will be put at risk,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said. “President Trump’s decision today is dangerous,” Kerry said in a statement Friday. “He’s creating an international crisis. It endangers America’s national security interests and those of our closest allies.”

As for Trump’s South Asia policy , this gridlock has to be understood by the geostrategic connotation explained by Michael Kugelman, the deputy director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, said, “the notion of India having a major footprint in Afghanistan is very alarming,” Kugelman said—and it is one that Trump welcomed in his speech. This, argues Kugelman, is one of the reasons Pakistan insists on providing support to the Afghan Taliban and its affiliates in the first place—fearing that India is using Afghanistan as a base from which to meddle in Pakistan, including support for separatist rebels in Balochistan Province, Pakistan supports other groups “that help promote Pakistan’s interest of keeping India at bay in Afghanistan.” But it is a thinking of common intelligence that says that a problematic Afghanistan is a blessing for both America and India to play their devious game to deter Pakistan’s growing influence in Afghanistan and Kashmir.Afghanistan continues to be a proxy war between New Delhi and Islamabad, and both sides see it as a zero-sum game,” said Seth G. Jones, an Afghanistan expert at the RAND Corporation, a policy research institute. “Will any of what Trump said move the dial in Islamabad? Probably not,” he said.

As for as Trumps’ administration approach on Syria and Ukraine is concerned, it appears that Washington is applying a cautious approach on these both issues. His personal bete noire about US-Iran nuclear deal is much manifested in his official speech that he delivered as US president.  But one trend that remains unchanged during the Trump’s foreseen foreign policy is Washington’s overriding love and bilateral enthusiasm towards Israel.   

And yet, many say Trump’s foreign policy is full of paradoxes and rhetorics, and narratives . Washington’s policy towards N Korea is a befitting case in this regard. Once, there was North Korea, a country that was not a nuclear threat to the United States. It was a threat to Japan and South Korea, and indeed during the campaign Trump said Japan ought to develop its own nuclear weapons. In other words, he said that North Korea was a Japanese and South Korean problem, not a U.S. problem. But when it appeared that North Korea was nearing the point where it had deliverable nuclear weapons, he got indulged in it by repositioning the United States for potential military action as it led diplomatic confrontations with Pyongyang. This remains the definition of U.S. policy on North Korea for several administrations.

And it is a policy that features prominently in Washington’s relationship with Beijing. Trump has said the United States would make some trade concessions to China if China helped the United States on the North Korea issue. But unfortunately, this is a long-standing strategy Washington has pursued. In fact, there has generally been more continuity than disruption in U.S.-China relations, with an apparently cooperative rapport between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Accepting the status quo at least for now, the United States has not shifted its stance on China. And yet, the experts from both sides, Washington and Beijing think that Trump’s upcoming visit to China will bring two global powers towards better understanding beyond illusion of a false dawn.

There is also a brewing cold war in the president’s camp about Trump’s divorcement of the TTP. In view of the Brookings experts, the Trump’s indoctrinated Trans-pacific Trade partnership (TTP) vision, the very concept of hybrid bilateralism seems a workable compromise between the preference of Trump’s trade team to negotiate with one country at a time, and the need of a multilateral economic architecture to increase economic efficiency. But the downsides may outweigh the benefits.

The U.S. has already tried trade bilateralism and found important limitations in this strategy: huge transaction costs of negotiating multiple one-on-one deals, and serious constraints in disseminating coherent and high-standard economic rules (each party presses for its own idiosyncratic standards). Importantly, this strategy would hinge largely on a U.S.-Japan bilateral trade deal. But the room for agreement under Trump’s “America First” philosophy is narrower. Tokyo is unlikely to react positively to the notion of reviving the managed trade approach of the Reagan years, tightening rules of origin that limit the efficiency of Japanese supply chains and imposing binding rules on currency manipulation that deviate from International Monetary Fund standards.

As for the US- EU transatlantic agenda, Germany’s Angela Merkel has been taking a hard line with Trump on a range of issues. Her conservative party, the CDU/CSU, has just removed the ‘most important friend’ description of Germany’s relationship with the United States in its electoral campaign program.

Focusing here on NATO, these developments may well portend disaster for US global power and influence, as Abe Newman and Daniel Nexon have written. Angela Merkel followed up Trump’s speech in May by suggesting Europe was on its own. Meanwhile, the head of the ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland, Jarosław Kaczyński, has claimed that Europe now needs its own nuclear arsenal to rival Russia’s, which was followed shortly thereafter by the release of a German review of that subject. Meanwhile, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, has worked up an elaborate plan for a more robust European security and defense architecture. Although there is no a priori reason why the EUs ‘Implementation Plan on Security and Defence’ and related measures must come at the expense of NATO, if the Europeans take Trump seriously there is also no reason why it should not.

The U.S. relationship with NATO, meanwhile, remains intact. Trump campaigned on the belief that NATO should be redefined, but he has since reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to NATO, though he has notably asked for increased European spending.The Brexit paradigm seems to decline Washington’s clout in the European Union.Turkey is moving full steam ahead on its plans to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system and already “paid a deposit to bring it immediately into force,” Turkish Harriyet newspaper reported Tuesday.

It comes as Turkish-U.S. relations have chilled and questions raisedabout whether Turkey can be counted on longer term by the U.S. and NATO alliance. For its part, Moscow appears to relish the fact that it’s stoking tensions in the NATO alliance and also flexing its muscles as a global arms supplier. Russian media has closely followed the Turkish interest in the S-400 and touted the air defense system as something India wants too.

And yet a revolt against global integration is underway in the West. The four most prominent candidates for president of the United States — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz — all oppose the principal free-trade initiative of this period: the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump’s proposals to wall off Mexico, abrogate trade agreements and persecute Muslims are far more popular than he is. The Brexit movement in Britain commands substantial support and could prevail. Whenever any aspect of the E.U. project is submitted to a popular referendum, it fails. Under pressure from a large influx of refugees, the European commitment to open borders appears to be crumbling. In large part because of political constraints, the growth of the international financial institutions has not kept pace with the growth of the global economy.

In terms of Trump-Putin relationship, the Trump presidency has also been overshadowed by allegations that his campaign team colluded with Moscow during last year’s US presidential campaign in which he defeated Hillary Clinton. After meeting his Russian counterpart at a G20 summit in Germany last month, Trump said he wanted to work more closely with Moscow on areas such as the conflict in Syria.

But the legislation — which also includes measures against North Korea and Iran — greatly limits his room for maneuver and underlines the lack of trust from lawmakers, even though his own Republican Party controls both houses of Congress. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that he would meet with his Russian counterpart Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov very shortly, but warned US-Russia ties could still get worse.

A special prosecutor is investigating whether Trump advisers colluded with what US intelligence has concluded was an attempt by Russia to covertly support the real estate mogul’s 2016 campaign.

In Latin America Trump is trying to partner with Mexico to reduce Central American migration, bully Mexico into building a border wall, impose sanctions on Venezuela, and foster stronger commercial ties with Argentina. To get a sense of how the U.S.’s relationship with Latin America is evolving during the first year of the Trump presidency I reached out to Jason Marczak, the newly appointed Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, a Washington D.C.-based think-tank.

US foreign policy experts, many of whom worked in the National Security Council, State Department, or Pentagon in the past, say they’ve rarely seen such a wide-open divide between what a US president is saying and long-stated US government agenda, or between the president and his own top policy and security advisors. “It looks like we have two governments at the moment,” said Edward Goldberg, a professor at New York University’s Center For Global Affairs, and author of The Joint Ventured Nation: Why America Needs A New Foreign Policy.  And here, it would be more pertinent to refer Richard Haas’ reflections– that he delivered in his 2017-published book ‘The World in Disarray’—must be taken as learning precepts for the Trump administration’s learning about the global affairs. The lack of systematic and collective institutional approach is highly reflective in Trump’s foreign policy since it is being dominated by Trump’s individualistic approach.

“Ever since the end of the Cold War, the overwhelming power of the U.S. military has been the central fact of international politics.” This is particularly crucial in three regions: East Asia, where “the U.S. Navy has become used to treating the Pacific as an ‘American lake’”; Europe, where NATO — meaning the United States, which “accounts for a staggering three-quarters of NATO’s military spending” — “guarantees the territorial integrity of its member states”; and the Middle East, where giant U.S. naval and air bases “exist to reassure friends and to intimidate rivals.”

The problem of world order today, the economist Gideon Rachman  continues, is that “these security orders are now under challenge in all three regions” because of Russian intervention in Ukraine and Syria, and because of China turning its nearby seas from an American lake to “clearly contested water.” The fundamental question of international relations, then, is whether the United States should “accept that other major powers should have some kind of zone of influence in their neighborhoods.” Rachman thinks it should, for reasons of “diffusion of economic power around the world — combined with simple common sense.”

To conclude, it seems that conversely to the previously held policy notions, the new goal of U.S. strategy under president Trump seems not to integrate rival great powers—Russia and China into a truly global world order, but to defend the existing international system — successful yet incomplete as it is — against their depredations. In short, the goal of achieving a fully integrated world under the US curatorship is no longer possible today under Trump’s America. For a cul de sac foreign policy to defend the existing international order– that the U.S. has retrospectively constructed and led over the years– will be a challenge enough to continue and establish further.

 

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