“The world is full of traps and snares, and the presidency is surrounded by invisible trip wires, which are liable to snag presidents who overstep.”
This is a companion piece to my Obama Doctrine piece on Enlightened Conflict.
Lately, I have been asked a number of times to develop scenarios under the Trump foreign policy particularly being asked to contrast it versus Obama’s philosophy <and actions>.
Here is the tricky part … that ‘scenario’ thing.
In developing any scenarios they are simply speculative because Trump has no foreign policy … he has no ideology … he has no strategy <excepting America First> … which means he only has tactics and a lot of rhetoric to examine. And even then I am not sure he has any specific tactics in mind within that rhetoric. However, what he does have is a stubborn American view of time and an unrelentless focus on a transactional short game, short term, maximization.
While Obama clearly views foreign policy within a long view, the long game, and working the arc of America’s course to better position the United States to lead in the future, Trump appears to value the here & now – the short game. I don’t think he is an idiot so I imagine, my guess that is, is that he most likely feels maximizing the here & now are steps toward a longer view leadership success.
Personally I struggle with that. Foreign policy is not like transactional business.
And in all my scenarios I have developed I just cannot see how that transactional approach works to the United States long term success <but Trump has a bigger brain than I do>.
Here is one thing we know … love him or hate him … the one thing President Obama has done spectacularly well in foreign policy is understanding the long game. Yes. Sometimes at the expense of a short term move that may have benefited not just USA but everyone … but in general the long game was well played.
Trump foreign policy appears to be on the short game. And, worse, he believes mystery, I.e., ‘not telling them what I am thinking or what I want to do’, is a successful foreign policy negotiation tactic.
Let’s be clear.
The rest of the world has no interest in attempting to translate what he is thinking.
The rest of the world takes him literally … and is acting upon his words even as we speak <no, they will not wait until he has clarified anything>.
This can lead to a cascade of calculated maneuvers throughout the rest of the world. While Obama has dictated the cascade and set the global agenda Trump appears to be positioning America as having to respond to the cascade of events.
As I noted in The Obama Doctrine … Trump is willing to shake the etch a sketch and see if he can redraw it to USA advantage.
I do not believe it is a stretch to suggest Trump has certainly already disrupted the intricate and complex global order of things, therefore, from this point on it becomes a juggling act.
And we can only hope he has a cool enough head, and surround himself with cool heads, to quickly assess the chips as they fall and catch the right ones.
We can only hope that he learns a president does not have the luxury of imprecise words.
I can guarantee everyone reading todayone thing – United States ‘enemies’ <or those seeking to gain an advantage> are moving even now.
I am not an alarmist nor do I believe we are on the verge of World War 3, however, Trump would be naïve to think other countries will not test the ‘literalness’ of the words and try and take advantage of the uncertainty he has unleashed in the global view.
That said. A couple of scenarios to chew on:
- America’s new place in the global economy
Here is one scenario.
Here is a truth to open this scenario … the dominoes are already falling on global economy and US global role. EU is cancelling its new trade deal with USA. China is reopening discussion on their version of TPP. Russia has begun investment in Nicaragua and dialed up investment in Syria and Assad.
There is a reason why presidents use words wisely and clearly state their intentions … it calms people, leaders and countries … and tells opportunists where opportunities exist and where they do not.
Trump’s “I will not tell them what I am thinking” and his “I will renegotiate all deals” and “NATO partners are not paying their fair share” have repercussions. He has already started the shredding of the relatively fragile fabric of the global economy <and this impacts military & security also>.
Oddly … many of the things he says is what Obama believes <as he stated in what is called The Obama Doctrine> but Obama sees the long game. Trump, in his ‘short term gratification Americanism’ and overall ignorance, simply sees ‘we could be getting better deals.’
As background … despite all the talk of America’s decline … current global economies go America 1, China 2, japan 3, EU 4 and let’s say South America 5th.
America, because of a smart play after WW2, embedded our economy and military side by side globally. With that decision we became the backbone or ‘common glue’ of the global fabric. We sneeze and the world gets a cold. We dictate the agenda. No matter what anyone says we are biggest and baddest player globally.
And some of our most critiqued deals have played specific tactica roles … NAFTA strengthened our global role … TPP blocks China from our role.
Basically our role blocks out countries that want a larger role and permits USA the luxury of a steady hand on a slow moving ship.
With that role sometimes we do not get the ‘best deals’ and sometimes may sacrifice some NATO payments … but it also gives some global comfort and global control and us domestic security.
USA does not lose that role unless USA cedes that role. There is no one, not even China, which can wrest that role from us as long as we maintain it <flaws and all>.
And then there is today. Trump has increased uncertainty with his vagueness & bombastic rhetoric.
And there are several opportunists who have been attempting to change America’s role for quite some time.
In my scenario as the USA/EU trade deal stalls … China approaches EU and says “we offer certainty.” <Russia will also but EU will reject>. EU will increase ties with China.
China will approach TPP countries and say “we offer certainty.” They will listen.
And if we break NAFTA? <which was in my worst case scenario> … China will approach Mexico/Canada to replace it … but let me note that I tended to project EU as the replacement partner if we do not renegotiate the deal ourselves.
England is screwed because of Brexit. Doubly screwed because of Trump <because of what I will say later about the EU>. They manufacture nothing of consequence and are mainly a financial hub. They will approach USA seeking some partnership but we already are a financial hub and really mainly want UK for exports <and they are a smaller market>. We will deal but it will not mean diddly from an economic prosperity perspective.
Oh. And they have already negotiated a new deal with Canada.
Africa will want to be a player but cannot yet <but wait and see if they create an Africa United and then they become a significant player – I make that a very low likelihood short term but high probability long term>. But for now they will be used by the winners.
EU is interested in EU. They have no emotional investment in USA other than NATO. And they, of course, want a larger role in the global economy. They will play all sides therefore USA will play a smaller role in the long game with them <and they will also start pursuing their own version of an EU military system>.
On a side note … the reason why we purposefully have military globally is the stated purpose to keep conflict off our shores and on someone else’s ground. EU will grow in importance <and be quite pleased Trump gave them that opportunity>.
Japan? They are fucked. Because we give up TPP we give up that geography and China dominates the area where USA will only maintain a presence in the geography playing a military role supporting allies <assuming Trump des not dial that back> because there is no economic investment to protect. Separately, Trump seems to have little inclination fighting anyone if it is not directly the USA> so this increases likelihood Japan rethinks nuclear acquisition <although I assessed likelihood low and put them in an “EU alliance” scenario>.
Russia? Oh my. They seek relevance and if USA embraces even a small version of protectionism they will aggressively pursue becoming a viable economic player globally. They have already extended into Central America <Nicaragua> and the Middle East <Syria>. Further … well … Ukraine comes into play. Ukraine used to be the breadbasket of the Soviet Union and represents maybe a significant output of all agriculture globally <and Russia would be delighted to assume USA’s current global agriculture role if Trump changes import/export dynamics>. And eastern Ukraine is a mineral gold mine. Putin wants both because they make him economically viable. Ukraine is NOT part of NATO.
Who will stop Putin from entering Ukraine?
What military will invest their soldiers?
And once in … ? We can put sanctions on Russia but they now have resources everyone wants <particularly China>. The world is likely to sacrifice Ukraine for peace and Russia is able to improve their role in the global economy.
That is a scenario.
As stated earlier I do not believe we are careening toward word war 3.
However. Syria is taking on all the earmarks of the Spanish Civil war in the late 1930’s.
Russia is clearly using Syria as a training ground for tactics and capabilities just as Germany did in Spain in the ‘30’s <everyone should note that Russia refers to Aleppo as “Syria’s Stalingrad>.
The most obvious reason is to invade Ukraine.
I am not sure they will do so because Russia is doing quite a fine job of making Ukraine a subservient state without military but … and this is a scenario but … the ‘play’ is there and the practical military practice has occurred.
How would I do it if I were Russia?
I would do it within the 1st month of Trump administration. USA manages transitions really well so the country will be at high alert at inauguration. We do not let a new president sit on some island during transition. However, indications are that the Trump administration has all the signs of amateur hour and Trump, himself, has some relatively naïve views on Putin’s intentions. The job is overwhelming on a normal day and Russia would test an overwhelmed Trump.
Ukraine has to appear like the instigator. I don’t know what but it will create enough media confusion to give Russia the week to establish a significant presence in Ukraine. It would be even slyer if the instigation was against Belarus and Russia stepped in to support their puppet nation.
The world will hesitate and discuss and debate and all the while Russia will ‘do.’
Social media will be their best friend in conspiracy theory and spreading misinformation <kind of like what Trump did>.
Military: This is a quick campaign where the emphasis is to establish borders and squeeze out Ukrainian military. This is all about establishing a perimeter <see my safe zone below> and creating a ‘wall’ from surrounding NATO countries. Yeah. don’t be surprised to see a ‘wall.’
Civilian: I would assume Russia will have a puppet leader figure to stand up and own the moment. I, personally, would add in this tactic. While I know they can’t really financially afford it but if Russia could inject an influx of cash into the citizenry <not just the rich people> so they felt immediate positive economic reward … well … that seals the bulk of the people.
Russia will immediately establish a ‘no fly safe zone’ in eastern Ukraine on the Poland border. They will establish it as a ‘safe zone’ for Ukrainian refugees to flee to so civilians have a safe place. Russia has no real interest in eastern Ukraine and it creates a buffer zone to NATO countries.
Uhm. Ukraine is not part of NATO. Who is willing to save Ukraine?
This is all speculation. Every word.
Almost every word.
Here is no speculation … words matter in foreign policy. And Trump, to date, lives in a world where facts and truth don’t matter.
He is going to find out a very harsh lesson in global policy … he cannot move on from his rhetoric like he did in the elections. What concerns me is that USA learns a very harsh lesson at exactly the same time.
Can this be stopped? Only partially.
The uncertainty damage is done and unless Trump stops the ‘mystery rhetoric’ and the ‘deal or walk away’ crap the solution gets farther and farther beyond our grasp.
If he doesn’t think these conversations aren’t happening right now he is nuts.
By the way … that is why Obama is out internationally now … he is trying to figure out a way to not let opportunists in potential cracks.
In the end with the speculated Trump Doctrine:
- America’s role in global economy is diminished.
- America’s ability to dictate the global economy is diminished.
- America’s security now becomes more dependent upon others.
Ironically … the president who claims to be strong and make America stronger will inevitably make us weaker and diminished globally.
There you go.
Doesn’t mean Trump will not do some things that makes domestic economy perk up … in the shorter term that is … but time will tell whether he played the long game well or not..