Why ‘In­de­pen­dent Amer­ica’ is risk #1

Ian Bremmer ex­plains rea­sons Eura­sia Group sees in­ward-turn­ing United States as main po­lit­i­cal threat of 2017

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY IAN BREMMER *

ANAL­Y­SIS In­de­pen­dence is the core Amer­i­can value. Ge­orge Washington warned fu­ture US lead­ers to avoid for­eign en­tan­gle­ments, pres­i­dents Wil­son and Roo­sevelt avoided the world wars for as long as pos­si­ble, and later pres­i­dents have vowed to re­spond to for­eign ag­gres­sion “at a time and place of our choos­ing.” Pres­i­dent-elect Donald Trump has now de­clared a new form of US in­de­pen­dence, one that’s likely to trans­form US for­eign pol­icy. Each Jan­uary, Eura­sia Group pub­lishes our list of top global po­lit­i­cal risks for the com­ing year. For 2017, there are many rea­sons why “In­de­pen­dent Amer­ica” is our choice for risk #1.

Trump cam­paigned on a pledge to “make Amer­ica great again” but also on prom­ises to build an “Amer­ica first” ap­proach to the world. That means res­o­lute re­jec­tion of the idea, cen­tral to US for­eign pol­icy since 1945, that Amer­ica is the in­dis­pens­able leader in world af­fairs. That will come as wel­come news to many around the world who don’t trust Washington, but Trump’s view also implies a purely transactional ap­proach to relationships, in­clud­ing with tra­di­tional al­lies. “Want US sup­port? Pay up. Want US pro­tec­tion? Pay more.” Other gov­ern­ments will hear that a lot in 2017. Trump in­sists that the world’s sole su­per­power will spend its re­sources only in pur­suit of core US in­ter­ests – with­out re­gard for the con­se­quences for every­one else. On se­cu­rity, trade and cli­mate pol­icy, says Trump, all treaties and al­liances are up for re­view.

This is not iso­la­tion­ism. Trump will use US power much less cau­tiously than Barack Obama has. In­stead, this is an ex­treme uni­lat­er­al­ism grounded in Trump’s con­vic­tion that other gov­ern­ments are in­vok­ing tra­di­tional ties and com­mon val­ues to take ad­van­tage of US tax­pay­ers. Un­for­tu­nately for Trump, and every­one else, he’ll have to learn from mis­takes as he makes them. He’s the first per­son ever elected US pres­i­dent who has never served in ei­ther gov­ern­ment or the mil­i­tary. He knows lit­tle about the rest of the world and has yet to de­ter­mine which ad­vis­ers and of­fi­cials he can trust for sound ad­vice.

The world’s most pow­er­ful na­tion is about to be­come much more un­pre­dictable. In Europe, Trump’s con­di­tional sup­port for NATO, his tilt to­ward Putin’s Rus­sia, and his po­lit­i­cal affin­ity with anti-EU pop­ulists will leave transat­lantic re­la­tions weaker than at any mo­ment since the 1930s. In the Mid­dle East, the US en­ergy revo­lu­tion has steadily re­duced US in­ter­est in the re­gion’s ri­val­ries, leav­ing com­pet­ing pow­ers, in­side and out­side gov­ern­ment, to fight for dom­i­nance. Trump’s skep­ti­cism of in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions such as the United Na­tions and World Bank will un­der­mine the work they do in man­ag­ing con­flict, in hous­ing, feed­ing and protecting refugees, and in in­vest­ing in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

Most wor­ri­some is the grow­ing risk of con­flict be­tween the United States and ris­ing China. Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping will use Trump’s dec­la­ra­tion of Amer­i­can in­de­pen­dence to ad­vance China’s se­cu­rity in­ter­ests across Asia and its eco­nomic in­ter­ests ev­ery­where. In re­cent speeches, he has vowed that China, not trade-skep­ti­cal Amer­ica, will lead the fur­ther ad­vance of glob­al­iza- tion. His ap­pear­ance later this month at the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s an­nual meet­ing in Davos, the first ever for a Chi­nese pres­i­dent, and his un­prece­dented sup­port for the in­com­ing UN sec­re­tary-gen­eral un­der­score this mes­sage. China is no longer a “grow­ing teenager” that’s not yet ready for lead­er­ship. The emerg­ing power has fully emerged.

Trump will no­tice. He will see that tra­di­tional al­lies in South­east Asia, doubt­ful of US stay­ing power, are shift­ing their al­le­giance to­ward Bei­jing. He will note that China is be­com­ing more as­sertive in in­ter­na­tional meet­ings. He will rec­og­nize that Pres­i­dent Xi, who is pre­par­ing for a cru­cial po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion later this year, is push­ing back hard on Trump’s crit­i­cism of China’s ac­tions in the South China Sea or its trade and cur­rency poli­cies. Xi will de­nounce US be­hav­ior that he be­lieves is provoca­tive.

If Trump warms re­la­tions with Tai­wan to pres­sure Bei­jing, if Xi feels that democ­racy ac­tivists in Hong Kong are em­bar­rass­ing his gov­ern­ment, if China’s re­la­tions de­te­ri­o­rate with US ally Ja­pan, or if an emer­gency cen­tered in North Korea puts Washington and Bei­jing at cross pur­poses, US-Chi­nese re­la­tions will be sorely tested.

Un­der pres­i­dents Bush and Obama, Bei­jing and Washington have greatly im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tions. But in a year when the US and Chi­nese pres­i­dents both have some­thing to prove, that progress will be threat­ened as never be­fore. * Ian Bremmer is the pres­i­dent of Eura­sia Group and au­thor of “Su­per­power: Three Choices for Amer­ica’s Role in the World.” In­de­pen­dent Amer­ica is one of the 10 Top Risks iden­ti­fied by Eura­sia Group for 2016. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit http://eura­sia.gp/2imd­w2m.

Donald Trump is the first per­son ever to be elected pres­i­dent of the United States who has never served in ei­ther gov­ern­ment or the mil­i­tary.

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