Monday, March 20, 2017

When the New Guys Exceed the Old Guys

This week is the anniversary of the start of the Iraq War.  The Bush team got much criticism, and deservedly so, for its core approach: to be arrogant enough that they believed that the realities did not matter as they were going to impose their views on reality.  All the noise and complications of what might happen in Iraq were dismissed because it was their mission to revise the map and the realities of the Mideast by removing Hussein. This was an awful approach for many reasons, including empowering Iran, energizing the radical Islamists, and breaking Iraq which has ramifications we are facing in Mosul today. 

The new team of Trump folks seem to be even more arrogant and definitely more ignorant as they seek to act in ways that ignore the very basics of international relations.  What basics are these?
  • Countries respond to threats by balancing--either via building up their arms or by developing new alliances (Realism).
  • Reciprocity is key to international relations (Liberalism). Trump seems to think he can impose policies upon trading partners, including building barriers to trade.  It is most likely that if he imposes tariffs, others will respond.  
  • The domestic politics of other countries matter (much of the rest of IR). Bullying friends and foes alike will make it harder for them to compromise since their domestic audiences will be upset if they see their leader submitting to Trump.  Merkel, for instance, has an election coming up, so her performance last week was all about making clear that she would stick by German values (which are also translatlantic values, thanks to generations of US-European institution building and cooperation and reciprocity).
So, Tillerson blunders through Asia and Trump keeps on Trumping along.  Ignorance is bliss until you need friends to do something for you.  The future is not bright, but we might need to wear shades anyway (nuclear explosions are oh so bright).  Ok, that is a bit much, but if the Iraq War of 2003 tells us anything, it is to be wary of those who think that the realities of International Relations can be ignored or overcome via enough confidence.

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