A New World Order
President Trump is like no other politician America and the world – for that matter – has seen in quite some time. Unlike politicians who often say things, anything in fact, to get elected, President Trump continues to break the mould. Good or bad, he trusts his instincts and says what is on his mind. More so, he actually follows through on many of his thoughts and ideas, shaping policy on the fly with little, if any pushback or input from lawmakers and senior advisers. Ideas and goals that are fantastically and abruptly re-shaping the geopolitical landscape. A landscape that sees the United States moving away from traditional alliances and multilateral institutions in favor of partnerships and collaborations that lack the potential for success and stability forged under fire within existing institutions.
In the wake of the G7 Summit, the former reality television star ignited a war of words with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. As a result, the relationship and bond–that has endured between these two neighboring countries for centuries -now hangs in the balance. Yet, the Trudeau/Trump imbroglio is only the tip of the iceberg as President Trump’s quixotic and mercurial nature leaves the G7, and potentially the world, demoralized and reeling. US withdrawal from the JCPOA, the Paris Climate Accords, and the sudden about-face on Russia’s re-entry into the G7, are evidence that under President Trump, America is moving away from its allies and partners even if they are not moving away from America.
President Trump’s perpetual affinity for autocratic leaders and strongmen certainly poses great risks to US standing in the world, not to mention, tremendous global security challenges. But with the president’s courtship of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un complete, the triumvirate of the United States, Russia, and North Korea begins a new era on the world stage. The question now: where do the president’s recent overtures to Putin and Kim Jong-un leave long-standing US allies and friends? Incessant praise and affection for a rogue leader (Kim) even as the UN deems the North Korean dictator the most hostile and brutal in the world today. Inexplicable lobbying on behalf of the very strongman (Putin) Trump’s own national intelligence advisers stated emphatically interfered with US elections. All mounting evidence of shifting values and priorities in the age of Trump.
To be clear, past presidents met or engaged with autocratic leaders and nations. Franklin Roosevelt met with Joseph Stalin; Richard Nixon traveled to communist China; Barack Obama met with Raul Castro. These were efforts by past US presidents to bring rogue nations into existing international frameworks. Efforts that sought to curb human rights abuses and atrocities. Overtures meant to forge lasting peace through inclusion.
However, President Trump continues to chart a new path. A new course that appears to acquiesce to violence as a guiding political principle. Public policies that foment division and discord are quickly becoming the new normal. The United Nations, NATO, the European Union, the G7, long-standing multilateral frameworks designed to aspire closed societies to come in from the cold. Now, all are under attack internally by one of the central architects and supporters, the United States.
The embrace by the White House of nations anathema to these frameworks and hallmarks of inclusivity and openness portends trouble for democratic norms and principles. Many experts believe the US and its allies can and will weather this current storm. Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Steve Feldstein stated in a recent op-Ed:
“I believe the U.S. can weather the Trump storm for two reasons. First, the U.S. has built up a sufficient reservoir of international goodwill so that other countries will continue to give us a pass, notwithstanding the latest histrionics from Trump. Second, the U.S. retains a disproportionate level of influence – economically and militarily – that compels other countries to deal with us.”
However, Feldstein goes on to openly question this reservoir of goodwill and how long it will last under this presidents’ leadership. In fact, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary is only one of many lending their voices to this debate since the G7 Summit. Outgoing Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker has introduced legislation that seeks to curb President Trump’s tariff powers. Additionally, centrist Senators John McCain and Susan Collins expressed their support for Canada specifically and all the G7 members more widely, in the wake of attacks by the Trump Administration. While the political debate rages throughout Washington, Wall Street and other corporate leaders have been reticent to jump into the fray.
Still, many world leaders and even members of the president’s own party are openly questioning the efficacy and prudence of this Administrations outreach to rogue nations. Attempts at re-casting multilateralism might make for a great-sounding campaign slogan and speech. But is it worth the risk of alienating reliable and trustworthy partners? Especially if the newest partners and allies act and operate more like foe than friend.
Eric Ham is a former national security advisor for US Senator Bill Nelson. AB Alumni 2011.