The Devil in the Details: Farib SOS Imagines a Conversation Weighing Up the Administration 'Reign' of Donald J. Trump and Its Impact on the Global Influence of the United States

By Sos, Farib | New Zealand International Review, May-June 2018 | Go to article overview

The Devil in the Details: Farib SOS Imagines a Conversation Weighing Up the Administration 'Reign' of Donald J. Trump and Its Impact on the Global Influence of the United States


Sos, Farib, New Zealand International Review


On a recent Sunday morning, my friend, who reads widely and follows global issues on TV, called to catch up for a cup of coffee at a local cafe. He said he had reactions to burning global issues and to Donald Trump's behaviour to get off his chest. The following opinion piece distills our conversation from that day.

Roger's assessment of Trump after twelve months: a businessman wheeling and dealing

After reading various expert articles and watching media coverage over the last twelve months since Trump took office, my friend Roger felt great pain and frustration about the United States under Trump's administration. He believed that American influence around the globe has greatly diminished and it has lost the moral high ground.

My friend acknowledged that Trump was different from your average politician. He has no background of public service and instead has mainly focused on fostering his own and his family's business empire. But as a result, he does not understand that running a country is very different from running a business. He does not appreciate that there are complex checks and balances in the political system, as it has many dimensions, and has great impacts and consequences for the mass of the population. He is a transactional man, a wheeler and dealer.

With this introduction, my friend went on to say that when examining Donald Trump's behaviour, he thinks of several words beginning with 'D'.

Roger's views on TVump's defiance, division and diversion

First, Trump defied the odds that he would never be elected president of the United States. Pollsters, and the educated elites including his peers, got it all wrong. They under-estimated his ability to divide and rule, and his talent to speak the street language of his supporters. They did not credit his ability to divert attention from the nations enormous domestic issues--stagnant median income, growing inequality and the lack of a social safety net or social protection--by deflecting the responsibility for domestic troubles either to outsiders, such as China, Mexico and others ('They rip us off, they make us poor, we give too much leeway to them, we cannot allow China to rape our country'), or to entrenched, corrupted insiders: the elites on Capitol Hill and in government institutions and establishments.

In altering course and pursuing its America First' agenda, the Trump administration has been disruptive and created uncertainties in the global system. It has abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership--a 'terrible deal'--has initiated renegotiation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the US-Korea free trade agreement, and has withdrawn from the Paris climate change agreement. It has 'decertified' (although not yet quit) the Iran nuclear deal forged by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama and other major world leaders. It has engaged in gratuitous assaults on multilateral institutions such as the WTO and UNESCO.

China seizes the opportunity to position itself in a world-leading role

Moreover, says Roger, with Trump's unpredictable behaviour, confidence and trust in the United States, and in its influence around the world, particularly in Asia, continues to diminish. This disruptive behaviour works in China's favour as the credibility of the United States as a trustworthy partner or country is increasingly called into question.

China promotes its own multilateral agenda, an agenda that is currently less favourable to the United States. China recently pledged at its 19th Party Congress to solve many global problems. With the United States looking inwards, China is seizing an opportunity and utilising its economic strength to further expand its influence, especially in regions where it already has close ties, such as ASEAN.

This last is exemplified by both Vietnam and the Philippines reaching an accommodation with China on the South China Sea issues. Similarly, as a product of behind-the-scenes diplomacy and in return for easing economic pressures, South Korea has assured China of 'three nos': it would not consider additional terminal high altitude area defence (THADD) missile defence shield system deployment; it would not consider the use of other US missile defence systems; and it would not consider establishing a trilateral alliance with the United States and Japan. …

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