By Chintamani Mahapatra*
Never before did the American foreign policy draw so much limelight during an election year in the US as it has now. Likewise, the global anxiety over the outcome of a presidential election in the US has become more palpable today than ever in the past. Similarly, rarely have allied and rival countries of the US expressed their disquiet and angst over the foreign policy statements of an American presidential nominee as it is being witnessed during the 2016 election campaign. Yet, another new history in the ongoing US presidential election campaign is the vigorous opposition to their nominee’s positions on foreign policy issues by senior officials of his own party.
All these because of unconventional foreign policy views by Republican nominee Donald Trump that have unsettled both allies and enemies of the US to varying degrees. Trump’s prickly tongue has invited bitter invectives against him as well. Incumbent US President Barack Obama declared Trump “unfit” to serve as the Commander-in Chief of the US army. Incumbent US Vice President Joe Biden said, “threats are too great, and times are too uncertain” to elect Trump as the next US President, since he “has no clue about what makes America great”, even though he vows to make America “great again.” Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have accused Trump of making “disgraceful statements that betray” the “long standing values and national interests” of the US.
When Trump questioned the usefulness of the nuclear weapons by asking, “if we have them, why can’t we use them,” his “mental stability” came under suspicion. Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate Bill Weld said “He’s a showman…a pied piper…a music man” and more seriously “the noun that comes to my mind is a “screw loose.”
Significantly, the Republican Party’s senior officials and leaders too are miffed with Trump’s foreign policy statements. More particularly, a group of former cabinet officers, senior officials and career military officials, in an open letter in the Washington Post challenged Trump’s position on Europe, NATO and Russia, saying “We find Trump’s comments to be reckless, dangerous and extremely unwise” that go against “core, bipartisan principle found in every U.S. administration….” This is where both the Democrats as well as the Republicans seem to be united against Trump.
So are some American allies. For instance, French President Francois Hollande reportedly thinks that Donald Trump’s comments are “vomit-inducing.” America’s trade partners are apprehensive about Trump’s opposition to free trade. American allies are concerned about his position that unless they pay adequately for it, they should fend for themselves in defence and security matters. The US’ neighbours appear concerned about his ideas to build walls to prevent illegal movement of people.
There is little doubt that shallow remarks and use of obnoxious language have earned Trump several enemies within his country and abroad. But will Trump, if he wins the election, build a wall along the Mexican border? Will he disband NATO? Will he ask Japan and South Korea to make nuclear weapons to defend themselves? Will he endorse the spread of Russian influence? Will he flex muscles against China? Will he walk away from trade deals his predecessors have concluded? Will he wage a unilateral war against the Islamic State?
The answer is perhaps in the negative. It is important to separate rhetoric from reality to assess the US’ role under a possible Trump administration. In the heat of the campaign, all the candidates make promises, issue statements and indulge in strong criticisms, and once a nominee wins the election and assumes office, the whole world suddenly looks strikingly different. In this complex dynamics of domestic politics and intricate web of international relations, a single American president simply cannot do what he desires or dreams or promises. This will be more applicable to Trump than to his rival, Hillary Clinton, since the former is completely raw on foreign policy/national security issues and later is a proven diplomat.
However, Trump and his campaigns have already begun to change course. He has begun to find faults with the foreign policy weaknesses of the Obama Administration, build his own vision of a world order where the US would have restored its prestige, power and economic weight in the global. He harps on making “America great again” in the backdrop of declining US influence in the world order; he wants to make common cause with Russia and give an option to China to productively cooperate or risk having its own separate path; manage the huge trade deficit and restore the manufacturing primacy to keep jobs at home; confront radical Islam and stabilise regional orders than export the Western version of democracy; concentrate on domestic developments and not on nation-building abroad. All these ideas are expected to win votes and not please allies or displease rivals abroad.
* Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Professor, School of International Studies, JNU, & Columnist, IPCS