Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Another Professor Finds Trump Unhinged.

First it was Princeton economist and Nobel laureate, Paul Krugman, who used his Monday column in the New York Times to brand America's new president as a loon.

Now it's Harvard prof, Stephen Walt, who writes that Trump is "not a rational actor."

Never mind the irony of such a deeply corrupt and dishonest person accusing others of corruption; the odd thing is that he has been doing just about everything he can to unite key institutions against him. This may not matter if he and his lackeys can disseminate a squid-ink cloud of “alternative facts” and convince their many followers that down is up, black is white, 2+2=5, and what the president said on camera last week really never took place. As I’ve warned before, Trump & Co. seems to be operating straight from the Erdogan-Berlusconi-Putin playbook, and it remains an open question whether this approach will work in a country with many independent sources of information, some of which are still committed to facts.

... Get ready for a steady drip, drip, drip of leaks and stories emanating from dedicated civil servants who are committed to advancing the public interest and aren’t going to like being treated with contempt and disdain by a bunch of hedge fund managers, wealthy Wall Streeters, or empty suits like Energy Secretary Rick Perry, all led by President Pinocchio.

There’s also the broader question of his overall approach to foreign policy. As I’ve noted repeatedly, a few elements of Trump’s worldview make sense, such as his aversion to nation-building in the greater Middle East. But as Jessica Mathews points out in an important essay in the New York Review of Books, Trump and key advisors like Michael Flynn also believe Islamic extremism is a mortal danger and have promised to get rid of the Islamic State right away. But how do you do that, and how do you make sure the Islamic State doesn’t come back, if you aren’t busy invading, occupying, and nation-building in the areas where it and other extremist movements live and recruit? In fact, Islamic extremism is a problem but not an existential threat, which is why the United States does not need to try to transform the whole region. But Trump doesn’t seem to see things this way.

Even more important, Trump seems to be blithely unaware that the United States is engaged in a serious geopolitical competition with China, and that this rivalry isn’t just about jobs, trade balances, currency values, or the other issues on which he’s fixated. Instead, it is mostly about trying to keep China from establishing a hegemonic position in Asia, from which it could eventually project power around the world and possibly even into the Western hemisphere itself. It’s easier to favor “America First” when no other great power is active near our shores, but that fortunate position may not last if China establishes a position in its neighborhood akin to the one the United States has long enjoyed in its backyard. With its surroundings secured, China could forge alliances around the world and interfere in distant regions — much as the United States has done since World War II — including areas close to U.S. soil. This development would force Americans to worry a whole lot more about defending our territory, something we haven’t had to worry about for more than a century.

Trump and some of his advisors (most notably Stephen Bannon) may be operating from a broad, Huntingtonian “clash of civilizations” framework that informs both their aversion to multiculturalism at home and their identification of friends and foes abroad. In this essentially cultural, borderline racialist worldview, the (mostly white) Judeo-Christian world is under siege from various “other” forces, especially Muslims. From this perspective, the ideal allies are not liberals who prize tolerance, diversity, and an open society, but rather hard-core blood-and-soil nationalists who like walls, borders, strong leaders, the suppression or marginalization of anyone who’s different (including atheists and gay people, of course) and the promotion of a narrow and fairly traditional set of cultural values.

“Civilizations” are not political entities; they do not have agency and do not in fact act. For good or ill, states still drive most of world politics, and clashes within Huntington’s various “civilizations” are still more frequent and intense than clashes between them. Moreover, seeing the future as a vast contest between abstract cultural groupings is a self-fulfilling prophecy: If we assume the adherents of different religions or cultural groups are our sworn enemies, we are likely to act in ways that will make that a reality.

So where does this leave us? Way too soon to tell, but I’ll hazard two guesses. First, foreign and defense policies are going to be a train wreck, because they don’t have enough good people in place, the people they have appointed don’t agree on some pretty big issues (e.g., NATO), the foreign-policy “blob” will undercut them at every turn, and Trump himself lacks the discipline or strategic vision to manage this process and may not care to try. Even if you agree with his broad approach, his team is going to make a lot more rookie mistakes before they figure out what they are doing.

Second, get ready for a lot of unexpected developments and unintended consequences. If the United States is giving up its self-appointed role as the “indispensable nation” and opting instead for “America First,” a lot of other countries will have to rethink their policies, alignments, and commitments. Unraveling a long-standing order is rarely a pretty process, especially when it happens quickly and is driven not by optimism but by anger, fear, and resentment. I’ve long favored a more restrained U.S. grand strategy, but I also believed that that process had to be done carefully and above all strategically. That doesn’t appear to be President Trump’s approach to anything, which means we are in for a very bumpy ride to an unknown destination.


Toby said...

Mound, did you catch the video posted at Politics and its Discontents?

Justice Souter had a good point; an uneducated populace is vulnerable to a strongman who promises to solve their problems.

Anonymous said...

Muslims Are Not Terrorists