The United States might be undergoing a paradigm shift in its foreign policy under President Donald J. Trump. The shift is from a policy driven by national security and ideology to one pushed by economic concerns.
This shift is best summed up by American military officer, strategy guru and blogger John Robb. At his Global Guerrillas blog, Robb noted that American foreign relations have been driven by national security concerns since World War II.
The Old American Policy
Since 1940, U.S. policy has been focused on protecting America and its’ allies from a series of enemies. Those enemies included Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Mao’s China and terrorism.
“This means that ALL other aspects of foreign policy are conducted in support of (slaved to) national security policy,” Robb wrote.
Some presidents tried to change this and failed; Richard Nixon tried to substitute hardnosed realpolitik for Cold War conflict. Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush attempted and failed to adopt an ideology-driven agenda; based on a mixture of American ideals and Christianity.
The Trump Agenda
Trump wants to change that by making economic policy, primarily trade, the driving force behind American policy. The Donald’s goal is make American policy like that of the People’s Republic of China, which puts the economic interests of the country above all else.
Trump wants to make success in trade; and economic growth at home, the primary goals of U.S. foreign policy. He sees the world as a vast market in which the major goal of the United States is to make as much money as possible.
“In Trump’s post-Cold War world, US foreign policy will be dominated by trade policy,” Robb wrote. “Even national security policy will be subservient to trade policy.”
That means Trump will try to cultivate close relations with nations which are not direct competitors to the U.S. That would mean close relationships with Russia, India, Australia, and perhaps South Africa. It might also mean adversarial relationships with China, Germany, Brazil, Mexico and possibly the United Kingdom – all of which are or have the potential to be direct competitors to the USA.
A wild card here would be Saudi Arabia which competes with America in oil but nothing else. The Saudis are experts at cultivating close relationships with the U.S. and they are a major market for U.S. technology and industrial equipment.
Why American Foreign Policy did not Change for 77 years
The Trump agenda faces many challenges the greatest of which is the unstable and dangerous global situation.
Carter and Bush II were forced to drop their idealistic policies because of events beyond their control. Carter’s humble idealism collapsed in the face of Communist aggression, particularly the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Bush’s Christian idealism did not survive the brutal new landscape that emerged after September 11.
Nixon’s realpolitik was more successful; it worked with China because the Chinese wanted to go along. Yet it failed with the Soviet Union, which refused to cooperate.
Nixon’s policy also ran up against powerful forces at home in the form of the defense industry and tens of millions of Americans that passionately hated Communism. They viewed his trip to China, withdrawal from Vietnam and attempts at détente with the Soviets as treason. The only peace those Americans would accept from Communists was surrender, which they got under Ronald Reagan.
The Trump Agenda and its Enemies
Trump’s policy might quickly collapse if there is a new terrorist outrage or some sort of blatant Russian aggression. At home it faces strong opposition from the national security establishment, particularly the intelligence community. Some observers such as former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and Robb, believe there is an active conspiracy to sabotage Trump in U.S. intelligence agencies.
Donald is trying to buy the defense establishment off with promises of massive increases in military spending. That will work only as long as Congress; which controls the budget in the United States, goes along.
If Congress says no to more money for the military, a conflict between Trump and the Pentagon is likely. Currently Trump is safe for now because Republicans; who favor more military spending, are in control of both houses of Congress. That might change if the Democrats get control of the Senate or the House in 2018, when the next U.S. Congressional election is scheduled.
A bigger challenge will be the economic interests that profit from the trade status quo in the United States. This includes giant retailers such as Walmart (NYSE: WMT) and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN); which profit by importing vast amounts of merchandise from China. It also includes Wall Street financiers, Detroit automakers, Silicon Valley and industrial equipment makers; all of which conduct vast amounts of business with America’s current trading partners.
How America’s Farmers could kill the Trump Agenda
An even greater threat to the Trump agenda might be farmers because China is the world’s largest market for their product: food. Farmers are politically powerful in the United States, because they have lots of representation in Congress from small rural states (each of which has two Senators).
Since those states are heavily white and rural, they make much of the Republican power base. Trump might have little choice but to change his China policy, particularly if the Chinese stop buying American grains. Grains are grown in the Midwest and the Plains – the Republican heartland.
The U.S. Constitution gives the Senate; not the President, the power to write treaties and negotiate with other nations. This usually does not occur because most Senators have no interest in foreign affairs (people in other countries don’t vote in American elections).
Yet the Senate can simply tear up the President’s foreign policy anytime it wants to. This actually happened to Woodrow Wilson when the U.S. Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles; and the League of Nations, and effectively destroyed his presidency after World War I.
That means Donald needs Republican support in Congress to implement his agenda. Current American political realities make it impossible for Trump to enlist Democratic support. Any Democrat who voiced support for Trump in the present environment would be committing political suicide.
These realities dictate that the Trump agenda may not work. If it fails, nobody knows what will replace it because the American people are tired of the old Cold War/War on Terror paradigm. That is the United States military as global police force. Yet the Democrats are offering no alternatives beyond platitudes about multilateralism.
Therefore one has to wonder if America has a new foreign policy or simply a widespread desire for something else. Either way, America’s relations with the rest of the world are about to change dramatically.