Trump’s triumph and the world’s unease
Donald Trump deserves respect for his election as the next American President for he has triumphed over disbelief, ridicule and bare-knuckled blows in the harshest election ever seen in a liberal democracy.
He has proven himself to be an astute strategist who understood the American people’s deep divisions, weaknesses and rage better than experienced political experts and top media professionals in the US.
Yet, his election, whatever it might say about his personal gumption, is almost certain to be bad for America’s place in the world community.
The global community is no longer what it was even 10 years ago. Each significant component – from the European Union to Russia, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and others – is stronger and more assertive than in the past.
Each may have many internal weaknesses but none is pliable. Each has strong opinions about national interests and none is easily persuaded that being in the White House’s good books is the best place to be for the security and prosperity of its people.
Even President Barack Obama, who was held in very high esteem by European and other friends of America, never received unqualified support for US goals from any allied country.
Trump will get far less deferential hearing. He has won on a platform of disruption by promising to undermine if not destroy the “establishment” whose ideas have directed global affairs for more than seven decades, whether on security or economics.
The point is that all of America’s allies belong to the establishment. They worked hard alongside previous US Presidents to build rules of the game that suited their interests.
During Trump’s campaign, no US allied government or mainstream political leader expressed support for his ideas on such vital issues as defense, trade, immigration and climate change.
Each will expect Trump to stick to the pledges he made to his voters during the campaign. None of those pledges is reassuring to the ears of long-standing allies and friends.
He may not go all the way to fulfill his pledges, such as upending defense alliances, international security systems and world trade agreements. Or forsaking the wars that the US is fighting or supporting around the world.
But even talking about unravelling or weakening those agreements and coalitions is frightening for the partners. They have stood behind US policies often at significant political costs and sacrifices of money and blood.
They may have done much less than the US but each coalition member has sacrificed as much as was politically feasible for its democratic government.
Trump’s campaign pledges and his great need to show results to the segments of Americans that elected him have given pause to all foreign allies and friends.
Everyone is studying how to rely less on the US for security and prosperity. That will surely erode America’s influence in world affairs and Trump’s ability to motivate the continued loyalty of foreign governments, including key allies in Europe and Asia.
Trump will soon discover that negotiating with countries is very different from negotiating with companies or business persons.
In corporate and commercial negotiations, maximizing financial value and financial gains provides the common thread for all sides at the table.
In negotiations with nations, tangibles like money are a consideration but at lesser priority than emotionally-charged intangibles as national honor, security, local perceptions of history, the regime’s power, national ideology, the local political system’s survival, and religious and cultural imperatives.
Each country at the table has hidden longer-term agendas designed to increase national power at the cost of other participants.
Trump might think as in a business negotiation that delineating win-win outcomes is the best goal because working together could bring more corporate success and better returns for investors.
A diplomatic negotiation does not view win-win in such clear-cut terms. Countries enter agreements and alliances for very diverse and usually undisclosed reasons.
Treaty texts are always open to interpretations by each signatory and often undermined by reservations and exclusions written by each.
An overwhelmingly powerful country can seek and impose loyalty but at the cost of making most of the sacrifices because the weaker partners see their loyalty as payment enough. Their loyalty allows that country to perpetuate its leadership. This is deemed as reward.
The problem is that despite its enormous financial wealth and awesome military, the US is no longer powerful enough to bear the heavy costs necessary to secure leadership over others.
That means Trump will not be able to make demands from any significant country without offering disproportionately more in return. Even close allies like Germany, France and Britain no longer support US views without enough quid pro quo.
Instead, Trump has promised his electorate that he will give much less. It is this prospect of clash between Trump and US allies that motivates the red carpet Russia and China are unrolling at Trump’s victory.