Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Trump's foreign policy, at least so far

President-elect Trump, a New York business tycoon, has expressed some interesting preferences when it comes to foreign policy.  Playing up his image as a successful businessman, Mr. Trump has expressed his frustration that NATO members are not paying their fair share.  He has gone on even further to say that the US may withhold military support unless NATO partners start paying.

From a purely business perspective, this hardline stance is appealing.  Hey, you don't pay then why should I give you support?  In effect, Mr. Trump's foreign policy seems to going in the isolationist direction.  If he maintains this stance as he enters the White House, it also means Mr. Trump is going to radically reshape international affairs beyond just the US role. 

The most obvious consequence, and the one Mr. Trump seems to going for, is the US will no longer play traffic cop to the various conflicts going on in the world.  Mr. Trump's stance seems like it be the US is willing to help, so long as you are willing to pay.  Quid pro quo.

Such a foreign policy stance would be radically different from anything the US has done since the isolationism of the 1930s.  Much like then, Trump seems to feel in order for "America to  be great again", it needs to distance itself from foreign intervention.  Russia and Syria apparently are taking Mr. Trump at his word as relations with the US suddenly warmed after the election.

At the same time, Mr. Trump's isolation predilection has NATO extremely worried.  In effect, should Mr. Trump start withdrawing US forces from NATO, while simultaneously increasing relations with Russia, Europe will be very vulnerable to future Russia expansion.  Let's be honest, NATO was always about holding off a Soviet forces long enough for the US to muster stateside forces.  Remove US forces, or at least US willingness to engage, and NATO becomes a paper tiger.

Mr. Trump's business perspective, and apparent lack of historical acumen, could radically reshape alliances that have existed since the Second World.  The US has always looked to Europe as an ally in dealing with world affairs but Mr Trump only seems interested should it prove financially rewarding to the US.

One of the reasons Germany does not spend more on defense is because that last thing Europe, the US and Soviet Union wanted to see is a military strong Germany.  The Prussians, followed by the Weimar Republic, followed by the Third Reich was enough proof to the Allied Powers that allowing Germany to have an unrestricted military just wasn't in anyone's best interest.  Mr. Trump's policy could negate this and allow for a hard-line German leader to spend without restriction on building up the German military.  Given the already seething anti-immigration feelings by right-wing Germans, this could become a very explosive combination.

Even before Mr. Trump assumes office his victory is reshaping European politics.  Marine Le Pen, a French conservative nationalist, went from being a long-shot to the likely next French president.  British Prime Minister Theresa May is now facing more pressure to make Brexit happen sooner than later.  Angela Merkel's ability to win another term may have just been completely abolished.  

The US tends to be European-centric in its foreign policy but let's not forget that Mr. Trump's idea of foreign policy would also apply to Japan.  A fully militarized Japan was unthinkable to the US and Asia after World War II but and increasingly right-wing government in Japan, with an increased threat from China, could see a fully militarized Japan reappear.  Such a possibility would further worsen relations between Japan and North Korea.  Russia, unlike the United States, still very much remembers what happens when you underestimate Japan.  

By pulling US military support out of Japan, it will force the Japanese to spend more on defense.  A militarily stronger Japan will be alarming to the Pacific Rim (including Russia) and will see increased military spending across the region.  The Philippines have no love for Japan either and with the specter of US withdrawal from the region, it will force Manilla even closer to Beijing.  Yeah, none of that looks good.

Trump's policy thus far also ignores Africa which is the source of all of out strategic minerals that we depend on for the jobs Mr. Trump intends to create.  A reluctant US means China and Russia will become the new colonial powers in Africa.  Once in, the US will never be able to negotiate the Chinese and Russians back out.

Mr. Trump has demonstrated no appreciation for history nor for long-term foreign policy decisions.  His  choice to shepherd this neo-isolationism approach looks to be Newt Gingrich.  Mr. Gingrich is a neo-conservative who believes the US has been "too soft on Iran and North Korea", "the United Nations is corrupt", and "Palestinians are an invented people." At first it may appear his stance is opposite of Mr. Trump's but Gingrich can very easily re-align his opinions as to a rationale for the US to pull out of various alliances.  Combine that with Mr. Gingrich's tendency to lecture those he feels are intellectually inferior to himself and we don't have the most auspicious beginnings to the Trump foreign policy team.

I've been critical of much of the US foreign policy, especially under Mr. Obama, but to become isolated from long-term allies is the wrong answer.  Mr. Trump's policies don't address the situation created by US policies in the Middle East.  Mr. Trump's policies do nothing to engage and develop African nations.  Change is constant but Mr. Trump wants to turn our focus on ourselves to the detriment of others.  Four years of that may be four years too long.  The world will be a very different place and the US may not have much of a say in it anymore.  To some that may sound like a good thing but you may want to ask Poland about how they feel about Sep 1, 1939.  

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