August 14, 2018

DONALD WHO?:

Trump Wants to Destroy the World Order. So What? : Whatever the U.S. president's intentions, his efforts to rock the foundation of international politics are hopeless.  (JAMES KIRCHICK,  JULY 26, 2018, Foreign Policy)

Were Trump to exist in a different political system, one with fewer checks and balances and external limitations on a leader's power, he would be far more dangerous. Trump's behavior as a businessman, his authoritarian rhetoric, and his frequently expressed admiration for strongmen suggest dictatorial tendencies.

But as Trump would probably be the first to admit, running a democratic country--with a free media, independent judiciary, active civil society, energized opposition party, and regular elections--isn't at all like running a family business. If Trump were president of a banana republic like Venezuela, or a nonconsolidated democracy like Hungary, it would be much easier for him to single-handedly undermine his country's democratic institutions and geopolitically reorient it away from the free world. Fortunately, Trump--however despotic his inclinations--is the democratically elected leader of the world's oldest constitutional republic, and his attempts to undo the seven-decade-old liberal world order that republic built and sustained have thus far largely been frustrated.

The primary reason for this is that, at least in the realm of foreign and defense policy, Trump has either been unwilling or unable to staff his administration with like-minded "America First" nationalists. The U.S. diplomatic and security apparatus is a behemoth, comprising tens of thousands of people, and it requires a great number of ideologically committed and bureaucratically skilled individuals to transform America's world role in the way Trump desires. Beginning with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and continuing further down the bureaucratic chain to Wess Mitchell, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Fiona Hill, the National Security Council senior director for European and Russian affairs, there is no one in the upper echelons of the U.S. diplomatic and military firmament who even remotely shares the president's antipathy to the EU, NATO, or U.S. global leadership, never mind his bizarre affinity for Putin. (The role of these patriotic officials in restraining Trump's worst impulses, and the likelihood of their replacement by incompetent and obsequious ideologues, makes the recurring calls for them to resign shortsighted.) Until he was fired last summer, Steve Bannon was the closest thing Trump had to an advisor capable of translating his gut prejudices, conspiratorial delusions, and half-baked proposals about the world into actual policies. For a taste of the damage Bannon might have wreaked were he still in the White House, look to Brussels, where he has decamped to set up a nationalist political network he claims will rival George Soros's Open Society Foundations.

Absent Bannon whispering in his ear, Trump's ability to wreck the liberal world order hinges upon the degree to which he can translate his nationalistic, zero-sum worldview into actions on the world stage. Thus far, the damage he has done is mostly rhetorical. And nowhere has the gap between wild presidential rhetoric and actual governmental deeds been more apparent than Russia. The media's obsessive coverage of the Trump-Putin summit as if it were a major title boxing match--with television news outlets dispatching entire teams to Helsinki for nonstop coverage--exemplifies its simplistic reduction of U.S.-Russia relations to mere personalities and is seriously distorting analysis. For all the talk of Trump's "treasonous" behavior last week (and it was indeed morally despicable), there were no actual U.S. policy concessions to Russia as a result of his disastrous performance. From expulsions of Russian diplomats to sanctions on Russian individuals and entities to Ukrainian arms sales and increased support for--yes-- NATO, the posture of the United States toward Russia is tougher than it has ever been since the end of the Cold War. "Trump and the U.S. are not exactly the same thing right now," a person close to a Russian business tycoon recently lamented to the Financial Times, with more than a little understatement.

A common misperception of presidents (not least Trump's predecessor) is that they can change the world by their mere presence on the international stage. By treating Trump's rhetoric as if it constitutes policy, many are essentially endorsing a simplistic "great man theory" of history. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Celeste Wallander, a former National Security Council staffer under President Barack Obama, says that because of Trump's comportment, "Americans must face the fact that the biggest threat to NATO today may be the United States itself"--not the country that has perpetrated the first territorial annexation on European soil since World War II, whose military doctrine paints NATO as its main adversary, and that simulates nuclear strikes on NATO territory. If the biggest threat to NATO is its most powerful member, the other nations in the alliance certainly are not acting like it.

Yes, a handful of European leaders--namely German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her foreign minister, Heiko Maas--have repeatedly made statements to the effect that Europe can no longer fully depend on the United States as it used to in the past. But like Trump's alleged single-handed destruction of the liberal world order, their pursuit of alternate arrangements to work around or replace the status quo has been almost entirely rhetorical. Aside from the activation of an EU defense collaboration initiative called PESCO ("Permanent Structured Cooperation"), which was envisioned long before the arrival of Trump and is not intended to replace NATO, there is little evidence to indicate that European policymakers are genuinely preparing for a post-American future. In Asia, meanwhile, "Trump's focus on China as a great-power rival will compel him or some future administration to refurbish and expand U.S. alliances rather than withdraw from them," Daniel Deudney and John Ikenberry write in Foreign Affairs.


Always bet on the Deep State.

Posted by at August 14, 2018 6:25 PM

  

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