Trump Accelerates Demise of American World Order

Donald Trump hasn’t ushered in a post-American world yet — but not for lack of trying.

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, American president Donald Trump and British prime minister Theresa May attend a ceremony at NATO headquarters in Brussels, May 25
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, American president Donald Trump and British prime minister Theresa May attend a ceremony at NATO headquarters in Brussels, May 25 (NATO)

Donald Trump hasn’t ushered in a post-American world yet. But he is accelerating the demise of a benign hegemony that has made the world more peaceful and more prosperous with his policy of “America first”.

Europe

  • Europeans feel they can no longer trust the United States and are integrating their armed forces outside NATO. This risks reigniting national rivalries.
  • The Balts and Scandinavians, feeling Russia breathing down their necks, are remilitarizing.
  • America no longer plays a serious role in Ukraine, making a Russian retreat from the southeast of the country — much less the Crimea — unlikely.

Middle East

  • Trump has turned his back on the Kurds. Having for decades been neglected by the West, they may soon feel they have no alternative to unilateral action and violence to achieve independence.
  • By ceding postwar planning in Syria to Iran, Russia and Turkey, Trump is encouraging an entente between the three powers — heightening Arab and Israeli apprehensions and thus the chances of conflict in the Middle East.
  • Egypt can see the writing on the wall and is already eying rapprochement with Moscow after forty years of anti-Russian policy.
  • By undermining his predecessor’s diplomacy with Iran, Trump is giving that country no alternative to confrontation with the United States.

Asia

  • By pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and considering canceling a trade agreement with South Korea, Trump is reversing trade liberalizations that have raised incomes across the region.
  • Withdrawing from TPP has also given China a chance to promote its own, less liberal trade regime.
  • Whereas Trump has yet to make good on his promise to invest in American infrastructure, China is spending lavishly on its “One Belt and One Road,” which has the potential to make it the center of new, Eurasian-based world order.
  • Trump’s seemingly impulsive North Korea policy not only risks nuclear war; it is causing Japan and South Korea to seriously doubt they can continue to rely on the United States.

Moral leadership

American leadership was never just about leading on trade or protecting other countries in order to discourage militarism. America was powerful because it claimed moral leadership.

This too is faltering.

Again, the rot started before Trump. Americans underestimate the damage the Iraq War did to their image. Barack Obama turned a blind eye to the Saudi war in Yemen.

But never has a president so actively and deliberately undermined America’s moral leadership as Trump.

  • He casually invokes the rhetoric of the 1930s when the destitution and political radicalization of that period — and the world war it produced — were what motivated the United States to lead in the first place.
  • He praises thugs like Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin and insults democratic allies, sending a message to strongmen everywhere that they need no longer fear being reprimanded. Egypt’s Abdul Fatah Sisi and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia have taken note.
  • Trump’s invectives against the press find imitation in the worst places. Syria’s Bashar Assad has brushed off reports of mass killings in his prisons as “fake news”. Nicolás Maduro has similarly denounced factual reporting of the desperate situation in Venezuelas as “fake news”. A state official in Burma called the horrific crimes that are committed against the Rohingya people “fake news”.
  • Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate treaty undercuts global effort to rein in pollution and suggests America no longer cares about the world it leaves behind.

Which could be the sad summary of Trump’s presidency: America no longer cares.