Sunday, December 17, 2017

American Foreign Policy That Has Been Severely Distorted by Trump

Ever since Donald Trump won the nightmarish election last November, foreign policy communities in the United States and abroad are keen to watch whether he would adjust his America First election promises to the reality. His official tours abroad from the Middle East to Europe and speech at the UN General Assembly have drawn much attention, and his final trip to East Asia has made it clear that he is more interested in keeping his controversial promise to please his base at home, rather than pursuing global public interests like human rights, environment, and free trade. Also, he continues to laud Russian President Vladimir Putin, though his collusion with Russia is currently under FBI investigation. On the other hand, Trump takes the threat of Iran and North Korea gravely, but he does not react to them properly. His extensive favor to Saudi Arabia has pushed Qatar to lean more heavily on Iran (“Iran, Turkey sign deal with Qatar to ease Gulf blockade”; Middle East Eye; 26 November 2017). His twitter wars with Kim Jongun simply increase tensions without any achievements.

To begin with, let me present an overview of Trump’s foreign policy, and discuss how terribly it has inflicted damage on the American position in the world. From realist to global interventionist, and from liberals to conservatives, it is commonly understood that Trump’s narrowly self-interested foreign policy, as shown in his scornful attitude to collective defense and multilateral agreements, is eroding America’s reputation in the global community, which raises critical concerns among pundits. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a vehement critic to Trump as a neoconservative, and he comments that this president dismissed America’s mission on his trip to Asia. In China, Trump was obsessed with $250 billion business deals including the sales of shale gas, commercial jets, and microchips, while the trade talk did not make progress (“These are the companies behind Trump's $250 billion of China deals”; CNN Money; November 9, 2017). Meanwhile, he emphasized America First in Vietnam, though he mentioned an idea of “fee and open Indo-Pacific region” which is a core concept of new Japanese diplomacy initiated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. However, despite the superficial use of this word, Trump blasted the TPP because he believes that Americans have been duped by multilateral trade agreements, which is completely at odds with Abe’s vision.

Furthermore, Boot raises the more fundamental problem of Trump’s diplomatic conduct. This president is extremely aggressive when he confronts someone weaker than himself, like Gold Star parents and journalists, but when he meets someone in a strong position face to face, such as Xi Jingpin and Putin, he is unbelievably timid. Not only did Trump mention human rights and pay tribute to Liu Xiaobo, he failed to press Xi on intellectual property rights and unfair trade practices. There is no wonder allies distrust Trump’s go-it-alone and deal-oriented diplomacy. (“Trump’s Worst Trip Ever. Until His Next One.”; Foreign Policy --- Voice; November 14, 2017). Trump behaves accordingly to Putin, as he said he “trusted” the Russian president that the Kremlin had not meddled the presidential election, shortly after direct meeting with him at the G20.

Critical concerns come from realists as well, though Trump assumes himself a student of Henry Kissinger. Professor Stephen Walt of the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard University, comments that Trump is so disrespectful to promote American values of democracy and freedom that his views of the world is ruining America’s deeply embedded foreign policy assets for decades. While dismissing the advantage of universal values, he cannot draw a distinction between national interests and private interests in his pursuit of a deal-oriented diplomacy. This is typically seen during his visit to China and Saudi Arabia. His art of the deal is nothing but being blandished by the counterpart, while sacrificing vital American interests like fair trade, regional stability, and so forth. More dangerously, Trump praises autocratic leaders, notably, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Recep Erdoğan of Turkey, Jarosław Kaczyński of Poland, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, without understanding their politics and how such reckless behavior hurts American position in the world (“Trump Isn’t Sure If Democracy Is Better Than Autocracy”; Foreign Policy --- Voice; November 13, 2017). Trump’s self-styled realism may come from his real estate business experience, in which he learned how to outfox his rivals through savage competition. But state-to-state relations do not work like this way, and his dichotomy to dupe or to be duped is a poorly learned or even an underground way to understand multilateral frameworks in international politics.

While Trump boasts his deal-making skills, he remarked so naïvely that he would “trust” Putin over American intelligence agencies. Such dangerous naïveness is quite contradictory to his braggadocios. Former Deputy Director of CIA John McLaughlin raises some reasons for it. To begin with, Trump does not believe information of Russian meddling brought by American intelligence organizations. Therefore, he wants to attack the intelligence community by praising Putin. Also, if the public attention is drawn to the controversy over Russian interference in the election, Russia will be able to divert their alert from another intervention in the US election, which will ultimately help Trump. In addition, Trump believes that Russia is an indispensable strategic partner to the United States, particularly regarding Syria. His views are wrong, but he is too infatuated with Putin’s personality and leadership style (“Why Putin Keeps Outsmarting Trump”; Politico; November 17, 2017). Trump’s dangerous naïveness is problematic in the case of Saudi Arabia as well. He endorses the improbable “reform” by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to deepen security partnership with this country. But it is risky to rely heavily on Saudi Arabia to counter Iran, because the political stability of the Wahhabi kingdom is questionable (“Game of Thobes: Saudi Arabia”; AEIdeas; November 7, 2017). In both cases, Trump is an easy dupe rather than a tough negotiator.

The fundamental reason for Trump’s disdain to American foreign policy achievements and tradition is based on his illegitimate sense of superiority to mainstream politicians and intellectuals, according to Robert Kagan at the Brookings Institution. Trump has conquered the Republican Party with the help of Steve Bannon. They do not have to respect party ideals and establishments, because they regard the mainstream as continuous losers to Barrack Obama, while they defeated the Democrat. Having conquered the party organization and the electoral base, Trump is now using the Republican Party as his private machine (“Faster, Steve Bannon. Kill! Kill!”; Washington Post; October 11, 2017). Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs, comments furthermore, that Trump believes that he is superior to mainstream politicians and pundits because he assumes himself a genius of management (“Donald Trump”; Entertainer in Chief”; National Review; November 27, 2017). Thus, there is every reason why Trump does not hesitate to throw away American foreign policy achievements and traditions since Woodrow Wilson. Trump even scorns advices from more knowledgeable members of his own cabinet as typically seen in his recent decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, though Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised serious concerns with the safety of American diplomats and troops in the Middle East (“Mattis, Tillerson warned Trump of security concerns in Israel embassy move”; Hill; December 6, 2017). It is virtually tough to control Trump by adults in his administration.

In addition, we have to understand that this administration is inherently disrespectful to America’s venerable Foreign Service. That is not only the case with Bannon and his fellows who pursue "the destruction of the administrative state", based on Leninism. The global community regards Secretary Tillerson as one of the adults in the administration along with Secretary Mattis and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster to conduct the President toward mainstream foreign policy, as seen in the North Korean crisis. Yes, Tillerson is not an alt-right, but actually, he is destroying the State Department professional organization from the cost and benefits perspectives. He stopped recruiting new graduates to the foreign service, which will lead to a huge work force shortage of multi-million dollar projects. Career diplomats are bewildered by Tillerson’s CEO style management (“Present at the Destruction: How Rex Tillerson Is Wrecking the State Department”; Politico; June 29, 2017). The personnel cut plan is so drastic as to reach 9% of the total workforce of the Department. Furthermore, Foggy Bottom diplomats are increasingly critical to Tillerson’s inner-circle policymaking that alienates them (“Tillerson Seeking 9% Cut to U.S. State Department Workforce, Sources Say”; Bloomberg News; April 28, 2017).

The problem is beyond the cut of the workforce and 30% of the budget at the State Department in the name of “diplomatic efficiency”. Tillerson is slashing bureaus and special envoys that are in charge of vital issues, based on advices from Maliz Beams whose professional background is financial consultancy, but no experience in foreign policy. Envoys to be removed include those in charge of Syria, Sudan and South Sudan, and the Arctic. But congressional critics remind him that special envoys are necessary to call attention on critical national security issues among politicians so that they do not fall into oblivion. Removed special envoys are merged into offices and bureaus in the Department (“First on CNN: Tillerson moves to ditch special envoys”; CNN Politics; August 29, 2017). Also, bureaus of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor are eliminated (“Tillerson 'offended' by claims of State Department's hollowing out”; Politico; November 28, 2017). UN Delegations from every bureau of the State Department will be reduced as well. For example, the delegations from the Africa Bureau will shrink from 30 to three (“With Cost-Cutting Zeal, Tillerson Whittles U.N. Delegation, Too”; New York Times; September 15, 2017). More problematically, Tillerson has not nominated key positions of the Department just to “save time and the cost of Senate approval”. Notably, assistant secretaries of state for African, East Asian, South and Central Asian, Near Eastern or Western Hemisphere affairs, are unfilled. Former Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns and Former Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker denounce “President Trump’s draconian budget cuts for the State Department and his dismissive attitude toward our diplomats and diplomacy itself threaten to dismantle a great Foreign Service” (“Tillerson 'offended' by claims of State Department's hollowing out”; Reuters News; November 29, 2017).

Tillerson even launches an idea to merge the State Department and the USAID, but the roles of the Foreign Service and development agencies are fundamentally different, and this is why both are separated in major advanced nations. The State Department manages America’s foreign relations through policymaking and diplomacy, while the USAID manages effective and accountable programs to help empowerment of local societies. For these objectives, the State Department works centralized and hierarchical ways, while the USAID works bottom-up ways, as typically seen in disaster relief operations. Therefore, the State Department hires generalists, while the USAID hires specialists (“Tillerson wants to merge the State Dept. and USAID. That’s a bad idea.”; Washington Post; June 28, 2017). But the real problem is not Tillerson, but Trump. In the late November when the media rumored that Tillerson would be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Boot pointed out that he clashed with intelligence officials, because he claimed falsely that the CIA had concluded that Russian meddling had inflicted no impacts on the presidential election (“Tillerson State Department ouster is overdue, but won't solve the Trump problem”; USA Today; November 30, 2017). Unlike purely professional Mattis and McMaster, Pompeo has been a partisan politician after retired from the army, and there is no wonder why he cozies up Trump like that way. It is too wishful to expect the adult in the team to control Trump, due to inherent disdain to governmental technocracy of this administration. Nor, do they understand how much “the world America made” helps American national interests and the global community. Currently, Mattis may be the only real adult in the Trump cabinet. As Roy Moore was defeated in the last Senate election in Alabama, it is critical whether bipartisan common sense and conscience restore the momentum, and stand against the Trumpian idiocracy.