Leadership death knell
President Trump ditches US’ coercion strategy in favor of global hectoring
Last week marked the first anniversary since the election of President Donald Trump. There seems to be a universal consensus that his tenure so far has been marked with much talk but little achievement. Has Trump failed to lead the US and is this likely to change in the future? This week, we review the US president’s first year in office with Ilter Turan.
Was Trump’s ascent to the US pres dency a surpr se?
Trump was an outsider to the American establishment. He had neither been active in politics nor held political office of any kind. Conventional political wisdom would have it that he had no chance of winning the Republican candidacy or the presidency. Yet, in retrospect, there seems to be a universal reaction to the traditional political classes that has helped new populist leaders achieve political office. While Trump’s win was judged as a surprise at the time, the election of such leaders is now becoming commonplace.
Do you th nk Trump’s unexpected v ctory meant he was unprepared for off ce?
The US president is elected in early November but does not take office until late January. During the interim, he is supposed to appoint key posts in the US government including Cabinet secretaries and heads of important government agencies. Those, in turn, make some lower level appointments so that the presidential team is formed and has a chance to talk with incumbents to ensure a smooth transition. Trump failed to complete his team before he took office. Since his inauguration, the Trump administration has been plagued by departures in its core team for various reasons including dismissals. There was even one appointment – that of Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci – which barely lasted a week. There are still lower level jobs waiting to be filled. I was recently told in a visit to Washington that nothing much gets done at departmental levels for lack of leadership.
What d ff cult es have ar sen regard ng the mplementat on of Trump’s program?
President Trump has encountered two types of difficulties in moving ahead with his domestic program. Some of his executive orders have been fully or partly invalidated by the rulings of federal courts and he has experienced major difficulties in getting his legislative proposals through US Congress. In the case of unfavorable rulings that were mostly related to controls he wanted to introduce on immigration, it appears that he had received poor legal advice regarding what is possible within the broad principles of the US Constitution. In the case of legislation, he has failed to negotiate with Congress bills that will received majority backing. The general problem is that the president is an absolutist, he wants to have his own way. He does not want to compromise with other key actors in the US political system. In a private talk that I attended, a prominent Republican senator complained that the president fails to reach across the aisle, meaning that he is unable to build bipartisan coalitions to pass laws. Members of the US Congress, senators or representatives, are elected independently and do not owe their election to the president. Although they often vote along party lines, they are not bound by party discipline. Each has his own constituency to satisfy. This necessitates that the president builds a different coalition for each of his proposals.
What can you say about
Amer can fore gn pol cy under Pres dent Trump?
The absolutist frame of mind that has characterized Trump’s domestic politics has also characterized his foreign policy. He develops policy according to what he considers to be American interests without consulting friends and allies, without taking their interests and concerns into consideration. He then expects everyone to go along. He sees the US as dominating a unipolar world, expecting others to accommodate undiluted American interests. This is an unrealistic expectation that has undermined the credibility of the US as the leader of the Western alliance. At the moment, European members of NATO are unsure as to whether Trump would come to their defense if a contingency arises. In the Far East, the Koreans and the Japanese have twin concerns. On the one hand, they are unsure of the reliability of American defense commitments; on the other, they are concerned that the US might initiate a war with North Korea in which they would constitute the primary target.
F nally, are h s econom c pol c es damag ng Amer ca?
The attitudes and behaviors that have been manifest in the field of security are repeated in economics. President Trump has been critical of every trade agreement the US has developed. He is working to modify NAFTA, driving its neighbors to search other partners while depriving the US from a mutually beneficial relationship. He has scrapped the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) that President Obama had carefully crafted as a way of checking the economic and ensuing political influence of China in the Pacific region. He has stopped progress on the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). He has withdrawn from the treaty on climate change. The US had been the leader in the global system of economic governance based on liberal economic principles since WWII. On all fronts, Trump has replaced America’s leadership of the global order with an “America First” policy. This reduces America’s international role in the world to a “powerful actor,” but no longer a leader. In the year since his election, President Trump has led the US away from global leadership.