Friday, February 23, 2018

Is Trump Really That Bad?

Um, yes.  I asked a panel at the Ottawa Conference on Defence and Security about Trump because, well, I wanted to stir things up, and the panel was on the New World Disorder and Trump had barely been mentioned.  Jim Fergusson, a colleague I have known since our tour of Afghanistan in 2007, pushed back, saying ignore the tweets and US foreign policy is really not that different.  That the structures of US politics have contained Trump.  Hmmm.

So, what is my take?  You can probably guess.  We will defer the tweets for a second.  Let's first remember this list from the other day, focusing on the entries that are related to foreign policy:
  1. Appointing an agent of a foreign country (at least one, maybe two) to be National Security Adviser.
  2. Refusing to fight Russian meddling with American elections.
  3. Undermining civilian control of the military by appointing active and very recently retired generals to many significant posts and delegating responsibility for major decisions to those in uniform.
  4. Leaving the US understaffed in key areas at a time of significant crisis (who is the Ambassador to South Korea?).
  5. Lying every damned day about everything as well documented by Daniel Dale.
  6. Brinksmanship with North Korea.  Yes, North Korea is a hard problem, but it is far closer to a boil now than a year ago, and much of that is on Trump and his statements.
  7. Spilling secrets that allies have collected, creating great mistrust of the US.
 I have enumerated this list so we can refer to them more easily.  Numbers 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 have certaintly undermined allies' trust in the US.  Will the US do what it has promised?  No idea.  So, some allies may hedge and look elsewhere.  Some potential allies may decide to gamble on China's good will instead.

Numbers 3, 4, and 6 have helped to cause the risk of new war and the reality of escalating the current ones.  So, I think that is significant.  North Korea would always be tricky, but we would not be this close to war if not for Trump.  Yes, it takes two to tango, but Trump is a really bad dancer.

Dropping out of TPP, which didn't make my list but was mentioned yesterday, has made a meaningful impact that we might call "Hegemonic Abdication."  It will be really hard to build back up American leadership that has been so quickly squandered.

Canada has spent all of its foreign policy effort, it seems, on managing the US relationship.  Does that explain the series of shitshows in Japan, China and now India?  Maybe, maybe not.

Lots of talk of trade wars, but that has not happened yet except for the solar panel stuff. We shall see how far this goes, but it is already causing allies to have much angina.

Re the tweets: are tweets policy? To the Chairman of the Joint Staff?  Apparently not (see transgender policy).  To foreign countries?  Absolutely.  They may not be POLICY, but they are presidential statements which affect how countries anticipate and react.  How long ago was it that Trump alienated all of Africa with his shithole comment?  Oh, a month.  It feels like a lifetime. And surveys of the rest of the world about America?  Cratering.  And that matters as public diplomacy is a thing.

I could go on, but, yeah, I think Trump has done plenty of harm already to American foreign policy, and we still have three more years to go.  This year will probably be the year where we determine whether this is just bad or historically awful (trade wars, wars with North Korea and/or Iran). May we live in interesting times?  No thanks.

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