If an enemy of the United States wanted to throw the West into chaos it could not have chosen a better man for president than Donald Trump, a leader whose deepest thoughts are composed of 140 characters or less.
The U.S. likes to imagine that it remains the uncontested leader of the free world. The nations of the free world, however, have discovered there's no one manning Washington's wheel house and with the shoals nearing that's creating a certain amount of worry.
On trade, climate, foreign aid, and more, America’s allies wonder what U.S. policy is — and who, if anyone, can take America’s place.
But unlike in years past, U.S. allies aren’t poring over Tillerson’s testimony for meaningful signals of what U.S. policy is or will be; diplomats from around the world are learning that what Tillerson says is not necessarily a reliable guide to U.S. policy. The problem is that nothing much else is, either.
The same is true for the National Security Council at the White House, “including on very sensitive issues.” People say, “I cannot speak for the president, because I’m not sure what his position on this is.”
That lack of clarity isn’t limited to nitty-gritty points of policy. More than five months into the Trump administration, many allies and even rivals are still trying to figure out how the United States now sees its role in the world. Trump came into office blaring an “America First” message, and despite repeated soothing noises from some administration officials, has, especially in non-military matters, redoubled his rhetoric ever since.
Or, as Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland put it in a speech earlier this month, the United States “has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership.”
After a tumultuous first meeting between NATO and Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated late last month that Germany could no longer fully rely on others.
China has been hankering for a place in the sun all century — but, like Augustine, doesn’t want it quite yet, and Beijing’s values aren’t the same as those long preached by Washington or Brussels.
Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is happy to shoulder a bigger role in regional defense and security — but that could put the government on a collision course with China, and even with the people of Japan, who are still, broadly speaking, pacifistic. And as seen in the scramble after the U.S. withdrawal from TPP, Tokyo is hard-pressed to drive Asian economic integration on its own.
Europe has been roused from its groggy decades — more because of the threat from a resurgent Russia than from Trump’s admonitions to spend more on defense — but hasn’t sought to play more than second fiddle for almost a century. (“We don’t see ourselves acting as new superpower or pretending to be one,” said the European diplomat.)
The chaos of Trump's incoherent administration extends beyond trade and diplomacy. It's the sort of thing that's been known to spark wars. Take, for example, Washington's ramshackle policy in the Middle East.
First, a grouping of Sunni monarchies (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Bahrain); Arab secular nationalists (Egypt since President Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi took over in 2013, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia); and Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s faction in eastern Libya.
Second, a grouping of Turkey; Qatar; and Muslim Brotherhood affiliates such as Hamas in Gaza, Egypt under President Morsi before 2013, and the internationally-recognized Libyan government based in the western part of that country.
Third, a grouping of Iran and its Shiite allies, including Iraq (at least among key factions of the Baghdad government), the Assad regime in Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Fourth, the collection of various Sunni jihadi networks, including the Islamic State, various al Qaeda affiliates, and any number of smaller factions.
Fifth, there is Israel, which does not fit into any of the above, but is most closely aligned with members of the first grouping.
Syria, which had all the makings of a perfectly suitable proxy war, has now drawn direct and at times hostile intervention from major powers, America and Russia, regional players such as Turkey, Israel and Iran, plus the Gulf States and the NATO and friends chorus line. The "my enemy's enemy" rule does not apply here.
Now Fareed Zakaria predicts the U.S. is about to embark on another decade of permawar.