Wednesday, November 09, 2016

What the Foreign Policy Gang Had to Say

For the first time in its half-century existence, Foreign Policy made a presidential endorsement and it didn't go to Donald J. Trump. With that in mind, here are some thoughts from a number of its columnists.

James Traub writes:

I can’t help feeling that America has committed the most calamitous mistake of my lifetime. There will be a time to be reasonable and to think what one what must do to prevent Donald J. Trump from inflicting terrible damage to the United States and to the world. But this is a moment for the rending of garments.

I have spent much of the last year writing about the challenge to the liberal order in Europe. I did not think that what happened in Poland and Hungary could happen here. When, last spring, I asked Lech Walesa how Poland could have elected the reactionary nationalist Law and Justice party, he said, “What about the United States? You’ve got Donald Trump?” Yes, I said, but Trump won’t win. He grinned and said something. My translator turned to me and said, “Mr. Walesa says that he is sure Donald Trump has something up his sleeve.” Mr. Walesa was right.

John Hudson and Colum Lynch take a look at the frontrunners to serve as Trump's foreign policy cabinet. For what it's worth, they're all full-bore, red meat neo-conservatives. So much for Trump supporters who insisted that wasn't the direction he would take the United States. Guess who's in the running? Forrest Lucas, of Lucas Oil fame, for interior secretary. Goldman Sachs alumni Steven Mnuchin for treasury secretary. Newt Gingrich as a possible secretary of state. Jefferson Beauregard "Jeff" Sessions for defense secretary. Retired general Mike Flynn for CIA director. Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani seem to be in line for attorney general.

I can barely believe that I am actually writing those words: “President Trump.” I never thought he was remotely qualified for the highest office, and I never thought he would win. I was obviously wrong about the latter. Now I have to pray that I was wrong about the former.

Nov. 9, 2016, is a dark, depressing day for me and for the slim popular majority of Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton. It is easy on a day like this to fall prey to one’s worst fears. Is this the dark night of fascism descending on America? Maybe. Is this the triumph of white supremacists? Could be. Is this the end of NATO and the triumph of Vladimir Putin? Quite possibly.I admit that I am deeply worried that these cataclysmic scenarios could actually come to pass. This really could be Apocalypse Now.

Boot sees a single ray of hope - and it comes from Trump's incoherence.

In truth, although I have been warning — along with many others — of the catastrophic consequences of a Trump presidency, I have no idea what he will actually do. Nobody does, probably including Trump himself. If there is any optimism to be gleaned on this day after, it lies in the very fact that Trump has been so utterly incoherent on just about every policy issue.

...My conclusion is that Trump has few fixed principles beyond self-promotion. He wants to make America “great” but has little idea how. He has expressed certain sentiments — in favor of being strong and surprising our enemies, against political correctness, immigration, and disadvantageous trade treaties — without knowing exactly how they would translate into policy.

...Granted, the Trump we saw on the campaign trail was so erratic that it’s hard to believe he will be disciplined and prudent in office. But I’m hoping against hope that he will grow in the White House — that the office will make the man. Because if that doesn’t occur, the consequences are too ghastly to contemplate.

James Palmer writes that China is looking forward to a president who offers less resistance and more hypocrisy but warns that's a double-edged sword for Beijing.

The election of Donald Trump will be a disaster for anyone who cares about human rights, U.S. global leadership, and media freedom. That means it’s a victory for Beijing, where as I write, the Chinese leaders near me in the palatial complex of Zhongnanhai are surely cracking open the drinks and making mean jokes.

There are four major victories for the Chinese leadership here, tempered by one possible fear. The first victory is the obvious one, the geopolitical victory; China no longer faces the prospect of Hillary Clinton, a tough, experienced opponent with a record of standing up to bullies. Instead, it faces a know-nothing reality TV star who barely seems aware that China has nuclear weapons, has promised to extort money from U.S. allies around China like South Korea and Japan, and has repeatedly undercut U.S. credibility as a defense partner. Trump is also exactly the kind of businessman who is most easily taken in by China — credulous, focused on the externalities of wealth, and massively susceptible to flattery. A single trip, with Chinese laying on the charm, could leave him as fond of China’s strongmen as he is of Russia’s Putin.

Countries like Vietnam, Myanmar, and the Philippines, uncertain about who to back in the contest for power in the Pacific, will swing massively China’s way, preferring a country that keeps its promises to one that can turn on the pull of an electoral lever. The strongest U.S. allies, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, no longer confident in the U.S. nuclear umbrella, will begin seriously considering other alternatives — like acquiring their own nuclear deterrent, prompting new tensions with China.

...The second victory is in the contest between authoritarianism and democracy. From a Chinese point of view, an electoral system that produces somebody like Trump — utterly inexperienced in governance but a skilled demagogue — is an absurdity, the equivalent of picking a major company’s CEO through a horse race.

...China aspires toward the Singaporean model of carefully controlled elitism, a country in which Trump represents, in the words of one writer, everything they were taught to fear about democracy. The crudity of Trump’s triumphant campaign gives credence to Chinese media’s criticisms of a “chaotic political farce.” 

Trump himself has given every sign of governing like the authoritarian leaders China has favored from Myanmar to Zimbabwe. Every piece of paranoid security theater he has threatened, from a ban on Muslim immigration to the wall with Mexico, will be used by Beijing to justify its own myriad oppressions.

Trump's third gift to China will be on the contentious issue of human rights.

Every year, the United States puts out a report on China’s human rights calamities — and every year China responds with its own report, a mixture of indignant bluster and genuine poking at American sore spots, from police treatment of minorities to the gender gap in pay. But under President Trump, Beijing’s stockpiled ammunition against U.S. hypocrisy on human rights looks set only to grow, given his close ties to white nationalist groups, the likely gutting of civil rights, and his — and his supporters’ — attacks on the notion of press freedom.

...That’s assuming a Trump administration would even press China on human rights at all. Given Trump’s often-expressed admiration for dictators ranging from Saddam Hussein to Vladimir Putin, and his call for isolationism in foreign affairs, China might find itself with a reliably quiet White House that would turn a blind eye to crackdowns in Xinjiang — or even Hong Kong.

But China also is under the threat of Trumpian protectionism.

If Trump actually follows through on his protectionist plans, and his decisions have the same effect on the United States as they have on his many failed businesses, China’s own economy, already quivering, will start to shake. Beijing’s ambitious plans to develop other global trade networks through the “One Road, One Belt” scheme may be able to compensate for that — or may prove just as unstable in a rudderless world. China and the United States have often been compared to the two wings of the global economy; if one goes, they spiral down together.

As for Putin, Reid Standish writes there are great opportunities for Moscow provided it lays low for a while and does nothing to inflame Congress.

Now after more than two years of biting economic sanctions and international isolation Putin has a way to restore Russia’s global status and reopen ties with the West — and its name is Donald Trump.

Throughout the election cycle, Trump made improved cooperation with Moscow a tenet of his campaign and a consistent policy position. The Republican president-elect toutedthat he will “get along very well” with Putin and showered praise on the Russian leader, calling him a “better leader than Obama.” Other campaign comments indicate that his administration would be willing to roll back Washington’s current support for Ukraine, anti-Assad rebel groups in Syria, and even NATO members — which Trump has criticized for failing to pay their fair share of the costs for their security in Europe. These changes, according to Trump, would be justified by the possibility of enlisting Moscow’s support in the wider fight against the Islamic State and radical Islamic terrorism around the world.

...In a search for cracks in the Western facade to exploit, Moscow is likely to try to use confusion over Trump’s victory to breed disunity on U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia. Both Brussels and Washington have renewed sanctions into 2017, but fatigue in Brussels is growing, and it is not assured that the European Union will maintain the economic measures without pressure from Washington. Should the EU sanctions fail to be renewed in January, it would be a massive victory for Putin — ending Russia’s isolation with the West and earning international recognition that the Kremlin has restored Moscow’s global influence lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

...The Russian leader has eliminated his political rivals and maintains a firm 80 percent popularity rating, but long-term economic stagnation is perhaps the greatest risk to Putin’s rule. Since 2014, collapsing oil prices, fleeing capital, and an economic recession have had Russians tightening their belts. Moscow has so far managed to navigate its financial woes with some success, but Putin, who came to power following the economic crises of the 1990s, knows that growing debt and budget cuts are not sustainable. The  Kremlin, however, bet that it would be able to shift the geopolitical agenda to its terms, and Trump’s election is the seismic event Moscow had hoped for.

Robbie Gramer writes that Trump may scuttle mankind's last chance to respond to climate change.

The abdication of U.S. leadership would be critically bad for the fight against climate change, said Varun Sivaram, an energy expert with the Council on Foreign Relations.

U.S. leadership was “critical in making it this far,” he told Foreign Policy. Without that leadership, “the international climate process will still continue de jure, but de facto its progress will stall,” he warned.

The upshot of these opinions is that both China and Russia will be emboldened and quick to exploit the opportunities Trump probably won't even understand that he's creating.  A loss of confidence among America's traditional allies in Europe and Asia may see them pursuing their best interests in ways not coterminous with Washington's.

Nuclear proliferation in Japan and South Korea in the face of a shift in spheres of influence between China, ascendant, and America, in retreat. What could possibly go wrong with that?

Europe at least partly estranged from the United States at the same time drawing nearer to an accommodation with Moscow.

Trump is sowing his own minefield.



Anonymous said...

Trump has already backed off on his anti Muslim rhetoric and it's only day one!
Trump played his audiences, very well, with differing policies at different events.
It will not be so easy whilst making real decisions.
It's going to be a rough ride.
The UK's Farage is on his way to meet Trump; who's next?


The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, TrailBlazer, I think Trump's Gullibillies won't have to wait long to discover they've been "Trumped" in much the same way as so many of his students, investors and creditors.

Northern PoV said...

If Trump's attention span would allow it, implementing Trump's isolationist foreign policy would be an improvement over the last 50 years.

For ex: Why not be friends with Putin? (OK - he was very nasty to put Russia's borders so close to NATO missiles, but hey.)

My fear and expectation is that Trump will outsource his Presidency to the neocons ...

The Mound of Sound said...

We tend to forget, NPoV, that Trump will be the oldest first-term president in American history. Reagan was a few months older when he was sworn in for his second term.

We have seen how presidents age once in the White House. It really takes a toll. Trump is starting the job at 70. We've seen enough of his speeches to know that, without a teleprompter, his mind leans toward incoherence. His new job description requires a mind capable of handling incredible complexity, detail and nuance that rarely admit of black or white solutions. The Grade 4 level vision of the world he reveals is an enormous and potentially dangerous handicap.

As for outsourcing his job, Trump alluded to just that during the campaign. He said he would be the vision guy and Mike Pence would do the presidential stuff.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure Trump will make it to the White House. As you pointed out further up the page:

General Michael Hayden, the former director of both the NSA and CIA, called Trump a clear and present danger to American and global security. He co-signed a letter to that effect with 49 other senior Republican national security officials, including former Homeland Security secretaries Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge.

Sounds like the "deep state" isn't at all happy with the orange hairball the feral cat coughed up.