Donal J Trump has done it! Despite his hate speeches, his treatment of women and his view on others faiths and colour of skins etc., He is the new leader of the ‘free world’. He won by a significant lead, reflecting how majority of American people think today!
His selection to the presidency is not a new or shocking development in the western world. We have just gone through the Brexit shock. We have also witnessed the rise of right and far right parties across Europe. We have also witnessed a far right, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim behaviour in the mainstream political arena in the west i.e. France, UK, Hungary and Poland etc.
These events are connected to each other and represent a bigger change in the west: the ideals west hold dear are falling on its head. On the eve of the end of cold war, Fukuyama claimed ‘this is the end of history and its last man standing’ referring to western led democracy as the end of historical process. Well he could not have been more wrong. The right wing, anti-democratic spirited, Islamophobic and Xenophobic west is ‘the end of history (for west) and its last man crawling’. The west has become a prisoner of its own ideology. It promotes rule of international law, but stand silence when international law is broken by itself and by others. Its ideal always give way to its interest but it is even unable to secure its current or long term strategic interest in the world. Other global forces, be they state or non-state are filling in.
It is important to note that the west was already there when Trump got elected. Trump presidency will increase the process of western self-demise and will accelerate the process of the deterioration of western rule over the global system.
Whatever we know so far of Trump’s foreign policy, excluding the vote gathering stunts like the ‘beautiful wall’: Trump is essentially an isolationist. He believes that US needs to look inward as it makes more business sense. These do not seem just empty rhetoric but firm beliefs built on historical realities such as US catastrophic engagement in long ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Trump may not do some of things that he said he will; there are a certain list of ‘dos’. Isolationism is one of them. ‘To make America great again’, Trump and his supporters believed that domestic issues should be given more priority. It is a common business sense for him. He also believes that US foreign policy has been held hostage by ‘naïve academics and diplomats’. In other words he does not appreciate a bigger picture or strategic overview of the things which seasoned diplomats and astute academics could bring on foreign and global policies.
Stopping refugees from entering US is again in line with this isolationism. Just like Brexit and its leaders, Trump would rather compromise economic interests and economic benefits of migrations rather in favour of stopping people entering. The current UK administration is built on that belief, refugee issue over single market. Trump is not far behind.
He has also stated his intention to reducing US role in NATO. That goes in line with his isolationist/inwards beliefs. And although he would like to stay away from the establishment and its belief he is certainly not alone in promoting and establishing the view that ‘America does not do nation building’. He wants NATO to focus on terrorism rather than on bigger strategic threats i.e. Russian expansion. With Russia he wants to have a good relationship. Because he believes on ‘strongman politics’. Putin is a strongman with a strong army and physical presence and upper hand in the Middle East. Therefore Trump wants a NATO that does not threaten Russia. He wants Russia to finish off the threat of the Islamic State (IS). And since he likes ‘strongman politics’ he does not see Assad as a bigger threat.
Trump is not a great military leader. Like his predecessor Obama he has already outlined his military vision. Trump’s US will not seek confrontation with Russia in order to avoid WWIII. This is on the similar line of Obama’s policy ‘we will not put boots on the ground’. When a state outlines its own redlines the others are only too eager to cross them, just as we saw in Syria i.e. the Russian intervention.
Trump also supports Israel and does not see Iranian deal favourably. The US Iran deal was a crucial piece of strategic jigsaw. The US wanted to move out of the Islamic world (particularly from Middle East) to focus on Asia Pacific, the act known as ‘balancing’. US Iranian deal ensure that this happened smoothly. Trump will like to see support for Israel and reversal of deal with Iran but he fails to realise the ongoing dynamics of the Russian-Iranian relationship. If he wants a good relationship with Russia, he will need to have good relationship with Russian allies.
In short, an inward looking, military and NATO weary Trump, will accelerate the dynamics of US foreign policy which was already set on course towards noninterventionism and more towards isolationism. This would mean that the gap created by Obama administration in the Middle East will widen. These gaps will be quickly contested over by state and non-state actors. Russian and Iran will be the major beneficiaries. Non state actors will also use it to their advantage. And without NATO to check its movement, Russia will seek a longer military and political role in the Middle East. It will also increase its military presence and assistance in other theatres such as Central Asia and Afghanistan.
Trump’s administration will lack a strategic vision for the US, in a time where the west seriously lack a stronger and wider vision. He will install people in his administration with more business acumen than those with strategic foresight. This will speed the process of a decline of the US as a major global power, because global power, even in today’s world requires a mixture of both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ power. His administration lacks both. A less involved US in the world affairs means a less involved west. For the past few years, Europe has completely given free reigns to the US to shape policies in key regions of the world such as Middle East. Europe is now more divided than ever and will not fill in the vacuum as quickly as it will be needed.
The west which rules for now will no longer do so on its own terms. The Islamic world and its regions will face a serious ideological, structural and political vacuum. Since the end of WWII, many of the Muslim countries have become a client state to the US or the west. There has not been any significant organic development. When there has been any development i.e. the Arab revolution it has had the unintended, reverse effects.
The irony is that while the west and its last man crawls through the history, so will the Islamic world. Its region will soon have to face with new emerging powers of whom there is very little known about. Muslim countries do not know much about China or can only second guess Russian intentions. There has hardly been any working relationship. Lack of real knowledge in the policy making circle will create uncertainly which will impact socially, politically and economically. Further uprising and revolutions can be expected. Ideologies will mutate or take rebirth.
One thing Trump’s ascent to power proves is that few things in the world which should not work, actually do. Terrorism and espionage. 9/11 has a direct result of where the US is today. The refugee crisis is not an isolated result of the Syrian crisis but it is an end result of US Iraqi invasion, failure of state building in Iraq and Afghanistan, ability of non-state actors to cash in that power vacuum and create their own quasi states of systems such as IS or Taliban, and the consequent power struggle with unpopular government (such as the IS take over and Taliban offensive), which led to the refugee crisis that we see today. The Xenophobic and anti-Muslim sentiment across Europe and the US is a direct result of that process. Espionage: because Russia (and to some extent China) have been able to create desirable political outcomes in the west (both in US and Europe).
Knowing something works is much more dangerous than not knowing. Once it is established or realised that terrorism and espionage pay off, as suggested above, more of it should be expected, not less.
To conclude this brief report, Trump’s victory should not be seen as a victory against the ‘establishment’ as the conventional wisdom denotes but as an end process of western policy and strategic failure and the triumph of forces described above.
There is a neo-classical theory on empires which can be summarised in two words: ‘they end’. At the beginning of this end, Islamic world will see further major upheavals and uncertainly for a foreseeable future.