Trump sees it as his mission to repair the social contract with the American public. He is focused domestically but events will nonetheless require Trump to look beyond the borders of the US. He is establishing a ‘professional’ Cabinet to facilitate that global engagement. Trump prizes business acumen, professionalism and a “killer” instinct in managing affairs.
The US Establishment has been quick to dismiss President Elect Donald Trump’s emerging Foreign Policy. The dearth of policy wonks, establishment bureaucrats, think tanks and foreign affairs pundits, reflects an emerging Trump Doctrine that is at variance with the norm. It is unsettling the establishment, and in particular the neo-con rump that has for two decades dominated the post Soviet foreign policy agenda of both the Democrat and Republican parties. Gone will be the overly academic U.S. foreign policy guidelines that have become too predictable and overwrought with diplomatic formality. If you wish to lift the edge of Trump’s developing Foreign Policy doctrine to peek beneath, then look no further than his key Cabinet choices and especially the musings of Trump’s key advisor Steve Bannon. Highbrow intellectualism can often be a handicap in this exercise. Trump is hiring pragmatic ‘doers’ not ‘dreamers & talkers’. With a Trump Cabinet, boasting people like Flynn and Mathis, the days of Obama’s ‘red lines’ and hollow threats will be a thing of the past.
The Washington establishment have been quick to dismiss President-elect Donald Trump’s foreign policy, with predictable knee-jerk increduality. The emerging Trump Doctrine however merits deeper exploration than knee-jerk displays of stricken disbelief. Contrary to popular consensus one of Trump’s greatest virtues is his unpredictability. He is fortunate that the United States’ strong geopolitical foundation gives it a wealth of Foreign Policy options.
Occasionally in Foreign Affairs we stumble upon a truly Machiavellian moment. I believe that we may be about to experience one such moment in 2017. Aloofness in international affairs is a geopolitical luxury, but the US has options not available to other Nation States. Trump does not fear nationalism but holds Progressive globalism as an anathema. Trump’s ‘real politik’ is steeped in nationalism.
“[American democracy is like] one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: It lives there in its comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to its environment; it is slow to wrath — in fact, you practically have to whack its tail off to make it aware that its interests are being disturbed; but, once it grasps this, it lays about itself with such blind determination that it not only destroys its adversary but also largely wrecks his native habitat.”
The emerging core convictions of the Trump Cabinet may be glimpsed from the recent musings <https://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/this-is-how-steve-bannon-sees-the-entire-world?utm_term=.gf346J7dl#.jx6opQrj7> of Trump’s chief policy advisor Steve Bannon. It is a radical divergence from the ‘business as normal entrenched establishment position’ that has dominated the politics of the US for decades.
Trumps ‘so-called’ spontaneous telephone conversation with Republic of China’s President Tsai Ing-wen, widely reported in the MSM as some throw away line, was anything but. The Main Stream Media remain in such ‘deep dungeon’ over Trumps presidential win, that they can’t bring themselves to admit that Trump was actually playing one of his many available ‘China Cards’, when he talked to Madam Tsai. There was nothing particularly spontaneous or random about Trump’s conversation, but the MSM reacted on cue with a false narrative. More ‘fake news’ about random tweets and accidental phone calls. In fact the conversation was carefully planned and times for maximum effect.
The Trump / Tsai call was specifically orchestrated to add to China’s current economic and strategic angst, as its foreign currency reserves reach critical levels. Trump was merely responding to Chinese aggressive probing of the resolve of the incoming administration’s, with its agressive moves in the South China Sea. Trump pushed back by chatting with Madam Tsai and both sides read the ‘tea-leaves’. The emerging Trump Doctrine is not necessarily playing by the same old rules, and the game has changed. Washington’s ‘One China Policy’ is again in play. China no doubt has taken serious note.
China also has cards in its hand to play, including strong-arming US corporations on the Mainland. But this is happening already as China’s foreign Exchange Reserves retreat catastrophically, and foreign corporates operating in China find it increasingly difficult to repatriate their profits. Another card up China’s sleeve is the exposure of Taiwan’s semi-conductor chip industry to China’s continued demand. Globalisation has linked national economies in ways that allows dominant manufacture and fabrication industry players like China, to manipulate weaker component and commodity based economies, such as Taiwan, as a way to push back against US allies and the US itself.
The other ‘big-dog’ in the emergent Trump Doctrine, is Russia. With the choice of, ExxonMobil CEO, Rex Tillerson, as the Secretary of State appointee, Trump has demonstrated his belief that in Cabinet selections, appointees skilled in tough deal-making, is a sources of leverage for his Foreign Policy formation. The United States is no longer fighting an existential battle with a Soviet Russia. The Trump Doctrine recognises this and seeks to write a new chapter in US / Russians relations and Tillerson is just the Secretary of State to write that new chapter.
Putin’s Russia is busy attempting to insulating the State and its borderlands from Western encroachment, in a period of Russian economic weakness, and the potential for future domestic turmoil, as he attempts to re-establishing Russia’s sphere of influence. Understanding Russian identity is crucial, as is the eternal Russian paranoia over its open , virtually indefensible borders. Trump’s emergent doctrine is less alarmist when viewing current Russian intentions through a historical lens. Trump has the potential to put to rest the question of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and coming to terms with Putin.
Trumps options in managing Russian objectives include, offers of targeted sanction relief and the potential for facilitating badly needed investment in Russia. Such options, wielded by a Russophile like Tillerson, could ease the measures necessary to get a dialogue going with Putin and split off Russia’s growing cosiness with China. Tillerson knowledge of Kremlin personalities can assuage Russia’s historical distrust of Western intentions that can be leveraged into closer US / Russian relations.
A Washington / Moscow rapprochement will however inject uncertainty into long-standing collective security arrangements within the European Continent, as U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom, France and especially Germany come under pressure from a Trump administration to pay their fair share of a collective defence bill. Trump was quoted as saying “free riders aggravate sic (irritate) me”, and the EU membership has taken note.
Finally we come to how Israel fits into an emergent Trump Doctrine. The incoming US administration recognises the paucity of the now defunct two-state solution in Israel’s favour. The appointment of Trump’s Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and the broadcast intention to recognise Israel’s capital as Jerusalem, is a break with past policy regarding the Jewish State. Friedman is going to be a very different kind of Jewish ambassador to Israel. Unlike his disreputable predecessors, Friedman will respect Israel’s right to make its own decisions, and will work to strengthen ties between America and its loyal ally, Israel, instead of undermining them. With powerful voices within a Trump Cabinet like generals Flynn and especially Matias, there will be strong impetus to keep the Israelis ‘honest’.
The Trump Doctrine is steeped in US nationalism and pragmatism. The world should take note, lest it underestimate the man yet again.