The chaos of the first 5 weeks of the Trump Administration’s foreign policy can’t continue indefinitely, can it?
It absolutely could, and for all the reasons people cite. Trump knows little about the world and nothing at all about U.S. foreign policy and he doesn’t seem inclined to learn. Key foreign affairs agencies like the State Department and the intelligence agencies are unstaffed and/or being marginalized. Trump keeps insulting foreign governments and contradicting long-established U.S. foreign policy positions. Then there’s the Russian influence scandal, his business conflicts of interest, etc. Oy.
Or, maybe this won’t happen. After a shakeout period we might end up with a more or less conventional and at least minimally stable conservative Republican foreign policy. For good or ill. I think Trump’s instincts on foreign affairs – a bellicose nationalism – are a lot closer to today’s “centrist” GOP foreign policy canon than a lot of people are willing to admit. But YMMV. Alternatively, maybe U.S. foreign policy is so strongly based on eternal and unchanging national interests (also for good or ill) that even Trump and his crew could not fundamentally alter it.
Still, I think it’s entirely appropriate to ask whether U.S. global leadership is at risk going forward, for two reasons. First, chaos aside Trump has proposed some real roll-the-dice policy stuff. I will go over some of his big ideas in my little opening presentation on Monday. Maybe U.S. foreign policy needed shaking up and/or a more nakedly self-interested and transactional approach. But these proposals are huge departures from 60 years of post-WWII consensus, and a lot of people are worried they could cause or accelerate a decline in U.S. influence.
Worse, some of Trump’s most trusted advisors and perhaps Trump himself may have a genuinely radical vision for America’s global role. Steve Bannon, in particular, has been described as seeking a kind of global alliance of far right-wing Western political parties and governments. Call it “White Internationalism” united to oppose our “true” enemies, like China and Islam. That’s not going to happen, of course. But even trying to bring it about could quickly pole-axe trust in American leadership.
Second, the global system and our position at the apex of it were deemed fragile long before Donald Trump decided he would look good as president. We have talked before about the possibility of declining U.S. global influence and whether the entire 60 year-old global liberal democratic order that is at risk. So, we have some good substance to cover. Trump has in some ways enunciated a coherent worldview, plus we can revisit the declinism debate in light of our new chief executive.
Here are the usual broad discussion questions and some background readings.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- Decline? Was a less U.S.-centric world order emerging before Trump’s rise? Why?
–> Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
–> What should we have been doing to stop it or shape it?
- Trump: How does he see our international problems and what solutions did he promise?
–> What vision and theory of power are behind them?
–> How accurate and how radical is it? à How committed/flexible is he on this stuff?
- Reaction: Will Congress, the bureaucracy, and the public support Trump’s ideas? How will the world react: Allies + adversaries?
- Results: What’s likely to be happen? Will transnational alliances/loyalties be remixed? Will global problems be neglected?
–> How will we know if U.S. leadership is less respected and our power reduced?
–> Any benefits to us from this?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
Was global order at risk before Trump?
- Yep, it’s dying.
Trump’s foreign policy vision –
- A 19th century foreign policy. Recommended.
- One that’s allied with and identical to those of the European far right-wing. Recommended.
- An “Alpha Male foreign policy.”
- Or: A more realistic and pro-American foreign policy. Semi pro-Trump POV.
Its Consequences –
- It will end the American century. Recommended.
- “The Return of Self-help.” Other nations will have to rely more on themselves and each other. Recommended.
- Trump’s budget would gut funds that support U.S. soft power, making war more likely. (h/t Aaron)
- Will Trump blunder us into a major war?
Alternatives beyond the status quo ante –
- Rebuild Americans’ trust in foreign policy by making it work for them.
NEXT WEEK: Economism: The misuses of “pop economics.”