Thursday, January 26, 2017

In foreign policy, expect Trump to be- at BEST- Obama, Part Deux

For all his bluster, our new president seems to be afraid of the rest of the world. Or maybe it's just that his view of it is out of the 19th Century.

Whatever the reasons, he seems determined to take America back to the role it played in the world before the Spanish-American War:  an insular nation uninvolved in the world (with exceptions made for ISIS, perhaps, and any other entity he dislikes) and in the last analysis really rather insignificant. In many significant ways, "America First" means America last. And lest we forget, the last time Mr. Trump's point of view prevailed- its supporters even used the same slogan- the result was World War II.

This isn't the age of Grover Cleveland anymore.  The furthest point in the world is hours away by jet, and minutes by ICBM. The world's economy is interdependent (our new president is in for a woeful surprise if he thinks he can remake it in his own image). He's busy alienating us from our NATO allies,  who are so upset about his bizarre criticism of NATO that they're considering building their own alliance to replace it.  Mr. Trump probably considers this a good idea; after all, it will mean considerable savings for the United States. The trouble is that America's withdrawal from the world will mean a power vacuum at the top- and nature abhors a vacuum.

In essence, Mr. Trump seems willing to let Vladimir Putin run wild in Eastern Europe, China, and North Korea to do what they will in Asia, and presumably Iran to work its will in the Middle East. Somehow, he seems to actually believe that his admirable commitment to Israel is compatible with this attitude.

But despite the efforts of analysts to find some unifying core to Donald Trump's foreign policy, we need to consider the likelihood that in this as in everything else he's essentially erratic, a creature of impulse ungoverned by a unifying vision except the primacy of Donald Trump. At best we can expect a continuation of the passive, weak-kneed foreign policy of Barack Obama. At worst, the next four years could sew the seeds of a whole lot of aggression in the world, a whole lot of wars- or even one, final, great big one.

History abhors a vacuum. And if there's anything history tells us, it's that somebody has to lead the world order if it's going to avoid descending into chaos. For a long time, it was Great Britain. Then it was us. The real question is whether Russia or, more likely, China will step into the role, or whether we're entering a new dark age of wars much bigger and more deadly than Iraq and Afghanistan. Either way, unless Mr. Trump comes to his senses (unlikely), is somehow outmaneuvered by Secretary Mattis and the other sane and competent members of his administration, or simply replaced, the next four years are apt to make the world a far more dangerous and chaotic place.

The lesson of the 'Thirties and the 'Forties still applies. When we step back from the world and decline to stand up for what is right, what is wrong prospers- and the cost in lives ironically becomes exponentially higher than that of standing up to it.

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