In the current edition of Foreign Affairs, Philip Gordon, a high-level diplomat in the Obama administration, employs a kind of futuristic counterfactual history meant to paralyze the imagination in fright. Trump’s foreign policy, such as it is, could indeed prove “more conventional than predicted,” writes Gordon. However “there is a real risk that events will turn out far worse — a future in which Trump’s erratic style and confrontational policies destroy an already fragile world order and lead to open conflict — in the most likely cases, with Iran, China, or North Korea.”
That Trump, through inexperience, stupidity, testosterone-fueled belligerence and tragic miscalculations, might stumble into war — or wars — is an all too real possibility, says Gordon. He then proceeds to show, step by step and region by region, how Trump could drag the U.S. into catastrophe.
And then there’s William Burns, another Obama administration diplomat, who, in a Washington Post op-ed, presents an even bleaker view of Trump’s foreign policy, for Burns’s presentation is that of Trump’s foreign policy as is. No futurism or guesswork is required to send one’s stomach sinking into fright and despair — for the catastrophe of Trump is already here, and it’s quite real.
“It is tempting to conclude that convention is ascendant,” writes Burns, meaning that Trump’s “foreign policy seems to be reverting to the mainstream upon first contact with reality.” This interpretation is deceptive, however, for “beneath the surface … lurk more troubling trend lines” — of which there are three, all of them irrefutable.
First, says Burns, the global example of America is essentially a history of ideas — concepts of “political and economic openness,” “respect for human dignity,” “enlightened self-interest.” Although we’ve not always lived up to these noble concepts, they have nevertheless and fundamentally “driven” our foreign policies, observes Burns, correctly I think. But Trump? He’s giving us and the world a “nasty brew of mercantilism, unilateralism and unreconstructed nationalism, flavored by indiscipline and overpersonalization.”
The second “troubling trend” is in black and white, on paper, and thus more irrefutable than the above. Trump’s proposed State Department budget cuts “of nearly 30 percent are not motivated by an interest in sensible change; they reflect a dismissiveness of the role of nonmilitary instruments.” This further reflects a conspicuous and terrifying reliance on “lethal force as our tool of first resort.”
Finally, Burns notes with necessary op-ed brevity what I see as the most disastrous element of Trump’s foreign policy to date — a disaster that will reverberate far into the future.
In Trumpworld, writes Burns, “Alliances are millstones, multilateral arrangements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and NAFTA are constraints rather than opportunities, and the United Nations and other international bodies are distractions, if not irrelevant.” Adds the diplomat, “It’s already proving corrosive, by creating a trade vacuum in Asia that China is eagerly filling.”
The TPP. Not to put too fine a point on it, the future of the world economy is Pacific Rim-based — and Trump has handed that economy and its leadership to China. Bernie Sanders’s opposition to the TPP was, however mistaken, at least idealistic. Trump’s opposition was wholly demagogic. He understood international trade not at all, and cared even less about it; he simply saw the populist appeal of Sandersesque anti-TPPism, and so he jumped on it. Thus is the U.S. now an outsider in the planet’s most vibrant economic region — and China, as the most refined of world-trade economists would put it, will eat our lunch. It should be needless to add that a nation’s hearty foreign policy is always grounded in its domestic economic health, which Trump has disastrously undermined for decades to come.
That could indeed be the worst of Trumpism vs. the globe — assuming, of course, that Philip Gordon’s visionary assessment of Trump’s inexperience, stupidity, belligerence and miscalculations does not, in fact, materialize into war.