At the moment, many countries, especially those most rapidly developing, have grand plans both domestically and globally, and are working on huge projects such as China’s Belt and Road initiative, or Crown Prince bin Salman of Saudi Arabia’s NEOM megacity project, or Turkey’s huge building programme. If the US has a plan, then it is a confusing one and one that is completely unapparent to the layperson. There is seemingly no major strategy or any cohesion to what the government does — and America is paying a huge price for that. Many countries no longer regard the States or their President as the leader of the free world and, as the nation coils in on itself with protectionism as its trade policy, the US is losing its high status and world standing.
Donald Trump said on the campaign trail that America would no longer be the ‘policeman’ of the world. And yet, his prominence in peace talks with North Korea and Kim Jong-Un indicate otherwise, as does his interventionist policies so far in the Middle East — namely in Syria against the man who he describes as ‘Animal Assad’. While his decisions to attack the Assad regime are well-intentioned and admirable (they are perhaps one of the few matters where Trump is better than a conventional politician as he practises conviction politics in severe humanitarian crises), they do undermine the assertion that is often made that he sticks to his promises.
Crucially, however, they leave his allies, who may well be wondering whether they are still allies of the US, in disarray. Trump insults them with tariffs, wades into their politics (as with the German Chancellor Merkel’s immigration row with her Bavarian CSU Interior Minister Mr Seehofer), and then turns away from them before he climbs into a hopefully metaphorical bed with one of the most secretive nations’ undemocratic leader who has an appalling history of human rights abuses. Perhaps Trump sees himself in Kim Jong-Un.
While peace in the Korean peninsula is an admirable cause, Trump should not turn his back on allies while striving for it, and with repeated attacks on the institutions, agreements, and traditions which bind the NATO countries together, Trump is eroding his own safety. If it was carnage in the west that Russia wanted with their election meddling and collusion with at least some members of the Trump campaign, then for Putin Christmas is coming every day at the moment.
Allies: NATO, UN, and the G7
While Trump has as of late performed something of a U-turn on his passive-aggressive relationship with NATO, we must not forget the threats that he made on the campaign trail and during part of his presidency to leave NATO due to allies within the organisation not meeting the standards of military spending that were agreed. Perhaps this was a valid criticism, but in the face of potential Russian interference in Western elections and collusion with the Trump campaign, it certainly was a poor diplomatic decision.
Trump announced via the US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley that the nation was exiting the UN Human Rights Council. Again, perhaps there are reasonable grounds for the move — the Council does allow countries with “questionable” human rights records to join, such as Cuba, China, and Saudi Arabia. Another reason behind the US’ exit was the overwhelming condemnation of Israel by the council, with the council passing more resolutions condemning this state than the rest of the world combined. Indeed, the criticism has been widespread: from the former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, the EU, and Canada have all aimed fire at the organisation for its heavy focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the ignorance of serious human rights abuses in other areas — notably in South Sudan. So perhaps, while certainly another inwards policy that only exacerbates the currently strained relationship with the US’ allies, this move was well-intentioned and probably the right thing to do.
However, the scenes at the G7 summit, just before Trump jetted off to Singapore to make a new friend, were the most ominous — both for the way in which he had placed tariffs on EU, Canadian, and Mexican steel imports before, and then the way in which he went to the summit and insulted his major allies, before a telephone call with Prime Trudeau in which he Trump queried, and I quote: “Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?” One — no, it was not. Two — why would that even matter, given that it was in 1812? The combination of idiocy, ignorance, and insults makes Trump incredibly unpopular with his fellow world leaders, who are really beginning to turn their backs on Trump.
In addition, his aforementioned willingness to intrude in foreign political disputes further weakens the bonds between the US and its supposed allies. At the moment, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s dispute with the Bavarian CSU’s leader, Mr Seehofer, is threatening to tear her coalition apart. Since the war, the CSU has been strongly wedded to Merkel’s CDU, and this disagreement could change all that. What Seehofer takes issue with is Merkel’s decision to allow 1 million refugees and economic migrants, primarily fleeing the Middle East, into Germany. This has caused the Chancellor’s approval ratings and her electoral share to fall somewhat, and the intrusion of the leader of the US will not be particularly welcome.
It demonstrates a huge disrespect to intervene in foreign politics, and, as Trump has done on several occasions, it can anger allies. With regard to the UK, he criticised the NHS for waiting times and inadequacies. While Trump may well be correct in his assessment, his assertion that the American system of extortionate costs and insurance is better is simply unreasonable and wrong. Quite rightly, this was met by Theresa May with the response it deserved: that at least the NHS allows everyone to get healthcare, no matter how rich they are. He also angered the UK when he claimed that a hospital in London was like a war zone hospital, with knife crime on the rise in the capital. No such scenes, of blood and stab wounds everywhere, ever occurred, and the false assertion from a foreign leader must have really angered the Prime Minister, as it did Sadiq Khan, who has now been targeted too many times by Donald Trump.
Just how much of this was planned by Putin?
I won’t re-run too much of the extensive coverage of the potential Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, but this is it in short: Special Counsel Robert Mueller is currently investigating the Trump campaign for ties to Russia, and as such has arrested and convicted several members of his team. The closest the scandal has gotten to the President is his son, Donald Jr, who liaised with a Russian official regarding intelligence on Hillary Clinton by email, and Jeff Sessions, the attorney-general, has recused himself from any investigation due to a potential conflict of interest. So far, seems pretty clear that Putin is playing the US and its allies, in order to disrupt the relationships.
But perhaps he is not. Vladimir Putin has a long-term personal feud with Hillary Clinton and was very likely only using Trump as a weapon to prevent her from ascending to the Oval Office. If this is the case, then the fallout from the election and the disruption in alliances may well just be bonuses for Russia. It is certainly not beyond Putin to play personal games and meddle in foreign elections just for a disagreement and feud — there is evidence he may have done it autonomous Russian regions as well as small states. Surely, however, he would’ve considered the split of the EU, Canada, and Mexico from the US. Leaving the West in complete disarray can only be advantageous for the Russian Federation, who have rarely not been at loggerheads with Europe and America (the same could be said of the Soviet Union and the Tsarist Russian era) throughout history.
While Trump may lack a global strategy, Putin does not, and it should certainly not be put past the Russian leader to incorporate interference in foreign elections into this plan. To doubt him would be to surrender to him, and the EU and Canada must be more mindful that Trump may well have been installed by a country that wishes for the disruption of Western alliances, democracies, and political structures — because the President certainly will not be.