"Making America Great Again" against the Backdrop of an "Africa Rising"? the Trump Administration and Africa's Marginalization within U.S. Foreign Policy

By Schraeder, Peter J. | Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, Fall/Winter 2017 | Go to article overview

"Making America Great Again" against the Backdrop of an "Africa Rising"? the Trump Administration and Africa's Marginalization within U.S. Foreign Policy


Schraeder, Peter J., Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations


Introduction

On November 8, 2016, first-time political candidate Donald J. Trump defied expectations and was elected president of the United States on the campaign theme of "Making America Great Again," taking office on January 20, 2017. He defeated seventeen rivals during the Republican Party primaries, as well as Democratic Party nominee Hillary R. Clinton during the general campaign. Trump's successful electoral campaign was built on an isolationist-inspired, conservative populism that emphasized four broad foreign policy themes: the destructive domestic economic impacts of unfair free trade agreements; the need to build walls to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants entering the U.S., including the deportation of those already residing within the country; the need to reduce U.S. military intervention abroad, most notably the termination and further avoidance of "dumb wars" in the Middle East, so that U.S. financial resources can be properly spent rebuilding America and especially its infrastructure; and the need to more proactively protect the American homeland from terrorist attacks from abroad. Trump's campaign themes were aptly captured in his book, Crippled America, which was re-released during the presidential campaign under a new title, Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America.1 Africa not surprisingly was completely ignored in these books. It was also barely mentioned during the presidential campaign, and when it was, the focus was on the more sensationalist side of U.S.-Africa relations. Of particular note was the 2011 killing of U.S. Ambassador Robert Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, and the politically-inspired Benghazi hearings by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives that were designed to wound the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, who served as Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.2

The primary purpose of this article is to provide initial reflections about what Trump's victory has meant for U.S. foreign policy toward Africa. Specifically, now that we have twenty observable months (January 2017-September 2018) of U.S.-Africa relations under the Trump administration, this article is devoted to a simple question: What do the policies associated with "Making America Great Again" mean for an African continent in the midst of profound transformations that this special issue of The Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations has aptly referred to as "Africa rising"? Despite expectations that a successful businessman who was the co-author of a popular book, Trump: The Art of the Deal, would usher in a new era of U.S. trade and investment in Africa's rising economies, the reality of U.S.-Africa relations has been a period of continued White House neglect, intensified by unfilled Africa-related posts throughout the national security bureaucracies and especially the State Department. The Trump administration has instead pursued a military-based, counter-terrorism approach originally set in place by the George W. Bush administration (2001-09) and largely continued under the Obama administration (2009-17). Other broad foreign policies, especially those related to immigration, have had negative repercussions on the African continent. Africanists have been particularly dismayed by racist, Africa-related statements, most notably by President Trump. The net result has been the exact opposite of "Making America Great Again," at least within the context of U.S.-Africa relations. The Trump administration has instead marginalized a rising Africa within the regional hierarchy of U.S. foreign policy, in essence ceding the field of maneuver for the immediate future not only to U.S. allies, such as France and Great Britain, but U.S. competitors, most notably a rising China and a resurgent Russia.

The remainder of this article is divided into two sections. The first establishes the realities of the U.S. policymaking system that contribute to Africa's marginalization within U. …

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