Foreign Policy in the Age of Trump

The state of international relations isn’t great. Obama has been a very cautious leader, and while he’s avoided anything terrible, he also hasn’t solved anything. Overall, I think he’s done fine. But now the US has a choice. More Obama (Clinton) or Trump (shit, literally a piece of shit). With the current babbling that Trump pretends are words, it’s worth looking at issues with US foreign policy.

First, I want to go over a few issues with the Trump campaign in terms of international diplomacy (in other words, forget about the race baiting, the blind religious intolerance, and let’s just stick with pure foreign policy).

It starts with wanting to disband NATO even while being unaware of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. There’s the disquieting fact that one of Trump’s advisers was the architect of Viktor Yanukovych’s campaign for reelection before the protests (during which police snipers murdered quite a few protesters) and subsequent flight of Yanukovych. Here’s a tidbit from a very interesting article that frames the situation nicely:

Mr. Manafort has already had some success, with former Yanukovych loyalists — and some Communists — forming a new bloc opposing Ukraine’s struggling pro-Western government. And now Mr. Manafort has taken on a much larger campaign, seeking to turn Donald J. Trump into a winning presidential candidate.

There’s the fact that he wants to DESTROY our trade relationship with China in spite of the fact that if we did that, everything we buy would be way, way more expensive. It’s something people don’t seem to think about when they talk about bringing back manufacturing jobs. Anyway, back to foreign policy.

There’s the troublesome praise of petty tyrants like Saddam and Kim Jong Un, not to mention Putin, Assad, and Gaddaffi. And even as he praises Assad, he wants to get the US involved in another war in the Middle East, or maybe he’s changed his mind and now he wants to magically make Turkey go single-handedly defeat ISIS? It’s impossible to say.

I probably failed to mention something. In fact, I didn’t even mean to write that much. So let’s go back to the issues with NATO. Is there any merit in somehow forcing the other members to do more? Well, that’s a thorny issue. How would we do that? By somehow renegotiating trade deals? Because that sounds like a titanic task that would require a lot of things to go right. The fact is, we have no real way of making our allies up their commitment. The only real thing we can do is lower our commitments, thereby putting them in danger.

The horrible thing is, Trump is (shudder) right (gag) about one thing. Our allies in NATO aren’t carrying their weight. If Estonia is so afraid of being invaded, they need to start acting like it. THey need to militarize like crazy. Of course, no doubt that would be met by an equal militarization and further breakdown of relations between Estonia and Russia. The same goes for Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. So what does this mean? Does that preclude these countries from building up their armies?

One thing that I do know is these countries do have something to fear. Russia fought an actual war with Georgia to snip away Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia outright invaded Crimea and then quietly send their “little green men” into Ukraine. If I lived in Latvia, I would be very worried about Putin trying something like that.

So, if we know there’s something to fear and there’s no good way to beef up the threatened countries without the US unilaterally doing it alone (which is a bad idea and would definitely escalate the issues), then what options are there? If Latvia won’t spend the money and the UK won’t spend the money, is it really the obligation of the US to potentially get involved in a massively destructive conflict? And if the answer is no, are we really going to let international bullies run free?

Personally, I think the United States is the reason there’s been no wars between nations (that is, excluding civil wars like Libya, South Sudan, Syria, etc). The US is the world police, for good or for ill. Once the US stops doing that, all hell is going to break loose. There will be wars between nations primarily led by dictators. It will be bad. Is it so expensive that the US can’t afford (literally use of afford) to head off these conflicts? Isn’t it better to be the pushy world cop than to let open warfare come to the fore? I don’t know. My gut says yes, but the chance of being wrong is potentially catastrophic. Global thermonuclear war, anyone?

Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Monroe Doctrine, so here’s a primer. The Monroe Doctrine started off as a rather innocent way of declaring that the European powers of the day wouldn’t be allowed to form any new colonies in the Americas. Obviously, it was more complicated than that, but it doesn’t matter because the real issue with the Monroe Doctrine came much, much later. During the Cold War, the US used the Monroe Doctrine as an excuse to do a bunch of slimy, disgusting stuff in an attempt to stop communism from spreading.

In reality, the Monroe Doctrine was basically saying that the Americas were the domain of the US and the US alone. No other country was allowed to intervene, only us. It was basically a statement of regional imperialism. As I said, slimy. Yet, now that the US is a global power, even THE global power, we can no longer support the type of actions we used to perform under the Monroe Doctrine. We can’t overthrow a regime just because we don’t like it. In terms of the public perception and voter power, the best we can do is something like the no fly zone in Libya. We can’t go in and assassinate people, or arm people. At least, if it were revealed that the CIA was doing that, not only would the world be furious, but the American people would punish whoever allowed it. Of that, I am certain. Even if it was the US assassinating Putin or some such nonsense.

The point of bringing up the Monroe Doctrine is to discuss regional supremacy. As in, is it okay for Russia to claim regional supremacy? How about China? When China claims the South China Sea in the Chinese equivalent to the Monroe Doctrine, is that okay?

First off, my gut says no. Regional supremacy was scummy when the US did it and it’s no less scummy when other countries do it. The problem is imperialism. The US might not be great when it comes to being world cop (the debacle of the Iraq War comes to mind), but at the same time, are we really going to let China muscle in? My gut says the US is right to do freedom of navigation patrols and potentially antagonize China.

Look at Vietnam. They fought a war with the US. But you know who else they fought a war with? China. Cambodia. Ever heard of the Khmer Rouge? They were insane, murderous, and terrible in every way. China backed the Khmer Rouge because it was ostensibly a communist movement (it was also insane). Yet, for some mind numbing reason, Pol Pot was absolutely certain that Vietnam wanted to destroy Cambodia, so he intentionally and repeatedly slaughtered Vietnamese villages on the border (also purged everyone inside Cambodia who might be Vietnamese). In the end, Vietnam really had no choice but to go secure the border, and when the attacks wouldn’t stop, they took over all of Cambodia and removed the scourge that was the Khmer Rouge.

And the entire world sanctioned them. China was furious and immediately invaded Vietnam. The two had several border wars. They had conflicts in the South China Sea. Now Vietnam is allied with the US because China is a regional power that wants to bully them.

Stepping back, let’s view this through the Trump lens. Consider that China and the US are best buddies when it comes to trade. We need each other. Our relations are good and strong in that regard. A real war between the US and China would be horrific for both sides. This ain’t no US/Russia conflict. And what does Trump want to do? He wants to destroy that bond.

So consider our options here. Either we have regional power players who bully their neighbors and simply take what they want, or we have a very expensive apparatus funded by US taxpayers to prevent truly devastating wars. These are the options. People like Putin who seize the reigns of power are bullies and you have to have someone to stand up to them, so stare them down and warn them off. Trump wouldn’t be that guy. Trump would smile and talk about how Putin is a GREAT guy.