The New World Order Is Leaving the U.S. Behind

Friday = Random Thoughts

Some of my Facebook friends may not realize I too want Donald Trump to be successful as President. Yes, I disagree with many of his positions on issues, but that alone isn’t enough for me to oppose him at every turn.

For many years I played golf regularly with a group of perhaps 15 like minded men. We came from all kinds of backgrounds, and enjoyed the company of others, regardless of our relative skill levels at golf. If a new club member asked to join us one Saturday, we would willingly accept his presence among us. If, however, after playing 18 holes it became apparent this person was bellicose, grandstanding, loud, presumptuous and not a team player, he would not be invited back.

My reasons for opposition to his politics are not that I simply don’t like him, as suggested by a friend. Like it or not, he is the President, but I would be opposed because I find him unfit for the office. The skill set necessary to be the CEO of the world’s dominant democracy is beyond the skill set required for a reality TV show, or even building a global real estate empire on the backs of little people.

My reasons for opposition are his lack of intellectual curiosity, his lack of discipline, his disregard for what I think of as normal social norms, be they respect for women, respect for those who are physically handicapped, respect for anyone whose values do not exactly match his own.

Increasingly, his apparent inability to discipline himself and project a coherent message in support of what are presumably his core values, leaves us with a measure of uncertainty. Uncertainty over time carries with it the very real potential to cause us irreparable harm. Nature abhors a vacuum, and he is creating one that will be filled. When that happens, the outcome could be disastrous. So far he doesn’t seem to care as he insists on digging the hole ever deeper.

He lacks the skill set necessary to effectively lead ALL of us. That’s why I don’t like him.

James Gibney / Aug 11, 2017

American allies have decided Trump is simply not someone they can do business with.

Of all the global consequences of President Donald Trump’s first half-year, surely one of the most surprising is the rise in multilateral diplomacy.

After all, this is the guy who came into office pledging to put America First. He downgraded the security guarantees of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to a definite maybe — and only if its members ponied up more defense dollars. The Iran nuclear pact was “the worst deal ever,” and the Paris accord on climate change wasn’t much better. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was dead on arrival. Japan and South Korea’s free-riding days were over. The North American Free Trade Agreement was toast. The U.S. would ignore the rules of the World Trade Organization. And from its proposed cuts in foreign aid and United Nations peacekeeping to the empty offices and embassies of the State Department, the Trump administration has made clear how little it thinks of soft power and diplomacy.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the disintegration of the international liberal order. It’s started to reconstitute itself — only not with the U.S. at its center.

Unfortunately, that has less to do with a realization among our allies and partners that the burden must be more equitably shared than with the increasing recognition that Trump is not, as some U.S. diplomats liked to say about third world dictators during the Cold War, “someone we can do business with.”

That sentiment found its most trenchant expression in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration, following Trump’s May trip to Europe, that the continent “must really take our fate into our own hands.” The net result of the Trump administration’s antipathy to free trade and cooperation on climate change and refugee resettlement was a united front against the U.S. at both the Group of Seven and Group of 20 meetings.

Jilted by the U.S., the other 11 members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are moving ahead on their own. Canada and Mexico are working together more closely than ever to save Nafta. Asian nations are hedging their bets between the U.S. and China. Trump’s tough talk on Mexico has prompted it to reach out to its hemispheric rival Brazil on defense cooperation.

Serious differences among allies are nothing new. During the Ronald Reagan administration, for instance, hardline U.S. attitudes toward a planned gas pipeline from the Soviet Union to Europe caused a transatlantic breach that strained even the “special relationship” with the U.K. And the call for fairer burden-sharing by American treaty allies — a.k.a. the free riders — is also as old as the alliances themselves, even if Trump turned the volume up to 11.

Yet as destabilizing as Trump’s transactional mindset — we’ll protect you if you pay us — has been, his temperament has been even more destructive. In Latin America, his brash bullying plays to the worst caricature of Yanqui behavior. No wonder the foreign ministers of 12 nations in the Americas who pledged this week in Peru not to recognize Venezuela’s new constituent assembly — a remarkable regional diplomatic achievement — chose to keep the U.S. mostly out of it.

Then there is Trump’s uncoordinated impulsiveness. His “fire and fury” outburst toward North Korea upended earlier efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis to reassure South Korea and Japan that the U.S. was not about to put them in danger. Tillerson has seen Trump repeatedly sandbag his efforts to broker a rapprochement among the U.S.’s fractious Gulf allies. And transcripts of Trump’s phone conversations with Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull and Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto suggest that both men could be forgiven for thinking they were dealing with Homer Simpson, not the Leader of the Free World.

Every hegemon has a sell-by date, and the U.S. is no exception. Even during the halcyon days of the 1990s — remember when the U.S. was being called a “hyperpower”? — President Bill Clinton’s administration was focused on creating institutions and a rules-based international order that it hoped would constrain China’s economic and strategic rise and extend the half-life of U.S. supremacy. For a variety of reasons, that didn’t work out so well (see: “deplorables”).

In that and other respects, the willingness of other democracies to step up on the world’s non-zero-sum challenges is welcome. Moreover, whether in matters of security or trade, Trump’s strong preference for bilateral deals that allow the U.S. to make the most of its leverage could yield clear benefits. If he and Chinese President Xi Jinping achieve a compact that balances their respective interests, so much the better. That approach could apply to U.S. relations with Japan, the U.K., and other U.S. allies and partners. Strong bilateral agreements, after all, can provide a basis for stronger multilateral ones in years to come.

But even bilateral agreements require a degree of discipline and coordination that Trump has yet to display. For now, Trump’s reflexive trashing of President Barack Obama’s policy choices without offering any coherent alternatives has left the U.S. on awkward ground. It’s one thing for other countries to fill a diplomatic vacuum created by a gradual U.S. withdrawal; it’s another for them to do so in the wake of a scorched-earth retreat. If and when the U.S. recovers its strategic senses, it might find itself reduced to occupying a much less attractive seat at the multilateral table.

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