Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Dangerous Nature of America First

Since the election campaign, President Donald Trump has been stressing the foreign policy key word of “America First”, which raises critical concerns among American allies, while Russia and China are exploring more vigorously to overturn Western supremacy, and Iran and North Korea are testing the new administration in Washington. Some people believe naïvely that there is no problem for any nation state to give priorities to her own people and national interests. Things are not so simple, and we should never dismiss the dangerous and caustic nature of this ideology.

First of all, Trump understands US foreign policy so poorly that he falls into believing in selfish and defensive views of the world. As a Jewish immigrant from the old Soviet Union in the childhood, Max Boot criticizes Trump’s bigoted zero-sum perspectives. Notably, Trump sees that America has been so altruistic that her trade partners have exploited the working class in the Rust Belt. To the contrary, it is universally understood that American help to reconstruct her former enemies to become friendly trade partners and allies is a successful landmark of her foreign policy. It is quite worrisome that Trump does not evaluate highly of American ideals, including human rights, and that is bitterly criticized by European allies and international NGOs. Actually, human rights advocacy has weakened American enemies such as the Soviet Union, and bolstered American power, through promoting democracy and freedom. An immigrant from the Soviet Union like Boot is well much more aware of it than Trump (“Grave Dangers and Deep Sadness of “America First”: .Foreign Policy --- Voice; January 23, 2017).

Meanwhile, far right nationalists in Europe and Japan are emotionally empathetic to Trump’s vision, though it hurts national security interests of their countries. This is because such self-assumed grassroots patriots detest globalist élites, and they want bullying Trump to defeat cosmopolitan ruling class. It is White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who provides the philosophical foundation for Trump’s America First. Professor Daniel Kreiss at the University of North Carolina points out that the pillars of Bannnon’s idea are economic nationalism and antipathy to corporatist global élites. In Bannon’s view, the world is inherently an arena of nation state competition. From this point of view, he believes that trade, immigration, and multilateral cooperation erodes national sovereignty and identity. Instead of universalism that modern enlightenment advocates, Bannon understands international politics in terms of the Clash of Civilization, and sees Islam inherently belligerent. Seen from Bannon’s theory of global class struggle, cosmopolitan élites are so corporatist as to sacrifice American interests for the sake of their business, and the media are on their side. In order to overturn such an élitist nation, he wants to destroy the administrative state that is closely tied with corporatist ruling class and infringes on people. America First is based on a dangerous populist idea like this (“Stephen K. Bannon’s CPAC Comments, Annotated and Explained”; New York Times; February 24, 2017).

Since Trump suggested abolishing alliances with Europe and Japan, his foreign policy is commonly seen isolationism. However, Kreiss insists that Bannon’s thoughts are essentially nationalism, and that does not hesitate foreign intervention, only in order to maximize national interests in a ruthlessly competitive world. Unlike neoconservatives’ regime change, Trump’s intervention is not based on such a universal ideal but sporadic recognition of international affairs. Trump is unpredictable not just because of his temperament, but because of Bannon’s ideology. Elliot Cohen and his proponents are right to denounce Trump’s swing from disengagement to belligerent adventurism in the open letter. In view of Bannon’s influence on Trump like this, so called flattery diplomacy by major power leaders notably British Prime Minister Theresa May and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is no guarantee to develop stable relations with the new administration. Professionalism of ex-generals in the cabinet, notably Secretary of Defense James Mattis and new National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, can curtail Bannon’s alt right influence, as seen in their objection to Trump’s anti-Muslim policies and remarks. Marine General Joseph Dunford who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Senator John McCain joins them. The three generals lived under the same roof with Muslims to fight against terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, and McCain is a highly credentialed Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (“Trump's new security advisor differs from him on Russia, other key issues”; Reuters News; February 22, 2017).

Max Boot argues that such hatred against rootless cosmopolitan simulates xenophobia and anti-Semitism, which is closely associated with undemocratic nationalists like Josef Stalin and Charles Lindbergh. He says that he has not seen the rise of anti-Semitism ever since he settled in the United States, until quite recently (“The Bannon Administration?”; Commentary; January 31, 2017). Boot’s worries have come to reality in Trump’s appointment of Sebastian Gorka to the Deputy Assistant to the President. Prior to acquiring US citizenship in 2012, Gorka was in close contacts with Hungarian far rights, anti-Semitic, and racist people and organization through his careers in politics and journalism. Moreover, he is an “in-house think tank” for Bannon, as a counterterrorism expert (“Exclusive: Senior Trump Aide Forged Key Ties To Anti-Semitic Groups In Hungary”; Forward; February 24, 2017).

In resonance with the alt-right in the United States, a Russian neo-Eurasianist Alexander Dugin is exploring to seize the opportunity to work with the Trump administration to repeal the current liberal world order, while expanding Russian influence from Ukraine to the Middle East, including Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia calls Dugin “Putin’s Bannon”. Dugin told Turkish President Recep Erdoğan that America and NATO allies conspired the coup d'état led by Fethullah Gülen to drive a wedge between Russia and Turkey. That echoes Trump’s skepticism to NATO. America First is the ideology of dissolving the Western democratic alliance (“The One Russian Linking Putin, Erdogan and Trump”; Bloomberg News; February 2, 2017). There is no wonder why Trump and Putin are so closely entangled, and Bannon’s anti-globalism charms nativists in Europe and Japan so much. The danger of America First is too critical to dismiss.