Thursday, December 01, 2016

Trump and foreign policy credibility

Paul R. Pillar takes a sober look at The Post-Truth President and U.S. Credibility The National Interest 11/30/2016:

There are many other sad things that could be said about the consequences for those workings of having a leader with so little regard for truth, which encourages further entrenchment of falsehood in politics and public affairs. In this respect Trump is both a symbol and arch-facilitator of a malevolent trend that led the Oxford English Dictionary to make “post-truth” its word of the year.
I'm always leery when people start talking about the importance of "credibility" in foreign affairs, because it's typically used as a reason to initiate or escalate military interventions for the sake of "American credibility."

But that doesn't mean it has no place in the foreign policy vocabulary. Pillar notes:

At stake is not just the reputation of any one occupant of the White House. The credibility of the U.S. president affects the credibility of the United States. And the perceptions that matter are those held not only by foreign governments but also by foreign publics. A reputation for lying by the person at the top exacerbates what are already widespread and unhelpful tendencies of many people overseas not to believe what the United States says are its reasons for its actions overseas. This is especially a problem in the Muslim world; in this instance with Trump, the deleterious complementarity is between his lying and his Islamophobia.
And he explains, referencing the problematic use of "credibility" for warmongering:

The threat to U.S. credibility involved here is far more real than the supposed threat that often is posited: that if the United States does not immerse itself in this or that conflict that is peripheral to its interests, then other governments will not believe that the United States will stand up for its interests elsewhere. That is not how governments calculate credibility. U.S. credibility depends not on intervening in what is peripheral but instead on U.S. leaders being believed when they say something is vital.
Pillar cites an article by Dan Drezner () in his he says, "Ultimately, Trump’s bluster and impulsiveness will hurt our national interest."

That's a good summary for what will surely be a very big problem the next four years.

Drezner says again, with understatement, "Trump’s lack of concern for facts, and his tendency to parrot whichever adviser spoke with him last, will pose a challenge for diplomats and foreign heads of state."

Drezner mentions this factor, which is one of the reasons I'm cautious about claims of alleged Putin support for Trump:

As for Trump’s newfound friendships with kindred leaders such as Vladimir Putin, one should expect them to be about as long-lasting as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Russia and the United States share some common interests, but not a lot of them. Given the temperaments of Trump and Putin, it would not be hard to envision the relationship spiraling out of control if one of them thinks he’s been wronged. Being hot-headed as a tactic only works if other leaders are not hot-headed in response. The very leaders most like Trump — Putin, Rodrigo Duterte of the PYeah, he Philippines, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan — are the ones most likely to respond to anger with anger, escalating any dispute.

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