Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Engaging Trump's America Strategically

Spending two weeks in Japan before Trump's inauguration has produced the same question over and over: what is Japan to do?  Of course, Canadians and Germans and everyone else has the same question.  Here are some ideas, based on what we know about the US and about Trump.
  1. If you need US support, pander like hell to his ego.  Prime Minister Abe flew to NY immediately after the election and met with Trump.  He apparently made a very good impression.  
  2. Do as much business with the US at lower levels of government.  All allies and most other countries have webs of relationships with the US government and private actors.  Try to handle most business with the civil servants who are sticking around and not the crazy folks at the top.  Not everyone can do that, but if you can (Canada), do it.
  3. If you are in East Asia, present yourself as a steadfast ally against China.  Note that Trump's first engagements were South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.  While folks in this region are right to be concerned that Trump may overplay things and trigger a war, being seen as a friend against China is likely to get that country off of Trump's blacklist.  
    1. Of course, this logic poses problems for those in East Europe, since Trump's love for Putin has huge consequences.  And siding with Putin is, for many, either impossible or downright stupid.  But Turkey, despite its Muslim-ness, is now working with Russia, which might put it on Trump's good side.  Hungary, with its authoritarian regime, has been leaning to Russia.  There are some others that fit this.  Finland might consider returning to the glory days of Finlandization.  Indeed, folks might want to consult the Finns for their expertise.
  4. Pay to play.  Whether Trump is in it to enrich himself or it is just one of many competing priorities, there is no doubt he believes in pay for play.  While this is problematic for countries with high anti-corruption standards, it is a possible tactic and one that has to be considered. If Ivanka and Eric and Don Jr. come a-calling, meet with them and take them seriously.  Certainly don't object if they show up at meetings even if it is inappropriate.  This goes back to the pandering thing.

Is this too cynical?  Maybe.  But the future is bleak, and much of the world will be dodging, ducking, dividing, dipping and dodging.  We sure could use Patches O'Houlihan right about now.

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