Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Trump foreign policy: Left? Right? Arbitrary?

There's no doubt Trump's foreign policy is unconventional in major ways relative to the last several Presidents.

As long as Trump is willing to sign tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulate corporations and reduce the civilian government, in practice the Republican Party will go along with his foreign policy. It's what they do. And as Dave Neiwert keeps reminding his readers, be careful about underestimating the authoritarianism of the Republican base. Trump may be upsetting the neoconservatives. But his base is sticking with him. I expect that will be especially true on foreign policy.

Some people on the peace-oriented left are hoping to find some redeeming features in Trump's foreign policy.

And it's an understandable impulse for a couple of reasons. One is that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pursued a confrontational posture with Russia and have a hawkish bent. The more I learn about US policy in Latin America, which policymakers have considered the "backyard" of the United States since the 1820s if not earlier, the less benign Obama's foreign policy looks to me. Because his Latin American policy was plain conservative, i.e., domineering. The only major instance for Good Neighborliness was his easing relations with Cuba. Now Trump is reversing even that. If Obama had made his Cuba adjustments before late in his second term, it would be a lot harder to reverse. (Mythili Sampathkumar, Donald Trump to reverse Barack Obama's Cuba policies after breakthrough of decades-old stalemate Independent 05/30/2017)

But don't worry, Trump fans. This is unlikely to get in the way of the main Trump family business. (Kurt Eichenwald, How Donald Trump's Company Violated the United States Embargo Against Cuba Newsweek 09/29/16)

Another is that there are substantial differences within the Democratic Party, with the corporate wing supporting the kind of Obama/Clinton hawkishness, which we saw in the disastrous Libya intervention. And since the hawks are largely from among the corporate Dems, they would also like to focus on almost anything than changing the dominant neoliberal economic orientation of the Democratic Party.

Max Blumenthal worries that the Trump-Russia scandal is distracting the Democrats too much from critical political issues:

He also seem to be "over it" with the Russia-Russia-Russia narrative that MSNBC in particular has been using:

Max in those tweets is addressing a dispute that is currently center-stage within the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton and the corporate Dems are emphasizing the importance of the Trump-Russia scandal.

The New Deal wing of the party generally thinks the Trump-Russia scandal is very important and needs to be thoroughly investigated. But they also wanted to see the party pivot away from neoliberal economic policies and start building a more aggressive, prolabor economic policy and political appeal.

Nomiki Konst states her position from the progressive side this way:

Robert Perry and his website Consortium News have expressed serious concerns about for foreign policy implications of the Trump-Russia scandal and how it can be instrumentalized to support a neocon/humanitarian-hawk position. In the 1990s, the neocons and humanitarian hawks had overlapping positions. In the 2010s, it's hard to tell the difference between the two.

Alastair Crooke makes a case at Consortium News for the Administration having a consistent, well-thought-out Trump and the ‘Management of Allies’ 05/26/2017. It's an admirable attempt and worth reading. But he hasn't convinced me. He seems to have signed up with Saudi Arabia for a jihad against Iran and Shi'a Muslims. At the same time, he prioritizes defeating/destroying the Sunni terrorist group, the Islamic State/ISIS. There is some real reason to let the Russians be the outside power to get itself entangled in yet another disaster in the Middle East with Syria if they insist on doing so. But Russia is allied with both the Shi'a government of Iran and the Allawite (more-or-less Shi'a) government of Syria. Does the Trump Family Business Administration have a three-dimensional-chess approach of how to manage improving relations with Russia, a more distant relationship to the NATO allies, a war against the Sunni Islamic State, and a broader front against Iran and other Shi'a in the Middle East.

To say I'm skeptical would be putting it mildly!

Other perspectives are also available at Consortium News. Daniel Lazare, for instance, writes:

With astounding precision, Donald Trump zeroed in on the worst possible Middle East policy option in his recent trip to Saudi Arabia and made it his own. He rebuffed the efforts of Iran’s newly elected moderate government to open up communications with the West and instead deepened America’s alliances with decrepit autocratic regimes across the Persian Gulf. [my emphasis]
Paul Pillar, who also posts at Consortium News, doesn't have a lot of confidence in the practical realism of the Trump Family Business Administration in foreign policy, observing that "slapping away any interest in democracy and human rights does not define realism. And we certainly have enough experience now with Trump to realize that his declaring he is doing something may have little relationship to what he actually is doing." (Trump Is No Realist National Interest 05/27/2017). And he uses the examples of Saudi Arabia and NATO to illustrate his point:

In addition to a basic respect for truth and reality, realism as an approach to foreign policy is centered on the concept of all states constantly competing for influence and pursuing interests that partly conflict with, and partly parallel, one’s own interests. Realists strive to harness the interests of others to advance their own nation’s interests. Realists utilize alliances while playing this game of nations but avoid being side-tracked by any fixed images of good versus bad or virtue versus evil, or by traditional habits of affinity or repulsion. Trump may seem to be practicing this facet of realism when he denigrates America’s most traditional circle of friendship and affinity, the North Atlantic alliance of Western liberal democracies. We saw this pattern at Trump’s recent meetings in Europe, with his refusal to reiterate the Article Five commitment of the North Atlantic Treaty, his physically shoving aside the prime minister of the newest NATO member, and his statement in a multilateral meeting that “the Germans are bad, very bad.”

But far from practicing the realist discipline of eschewing good-versus-evil side-taking and being willing to do business with anyone in order to uphold and advance one’s own nation’s interests, Trump already has sunk deeply into such side-taking, as he did at earlier stops on his trip. In Riyadh his visit was all about going all in with the Saudis, declaring that he was doing so as a matter of good confronting evil, and totally taking the Sunni side against Shia and the Arab side against Persians while ruling out doing any business with the other side. In Israel, where he made no mention of a Palestinian state or the effects of Israeli colonization of occupied territory, there was barely a hint of dispassionately following U.S. interests rather than succumbing to the passions of his hosts. [my emphasis]
And he concludes, "It is not clear yet whether Donald Trump’s foreign policy has enough coherence to merit the label of any 'ism', with or without capital letters. But it certainly isn’t realism."

Über-Realist Stephen Walt endorsed Pillar's take with this tweet:

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