Trump the Dis­rup­tor

Policy - - In This Issue - Col­umn / Don New­man

Since Don­ald Trump was sworn into of­fice a year ago as pres­i­dent of the United States with his “Amer­ica First” agenda, friends and al­lies have been la­ment­ing the lack of world lead­er­ship by the United States.

That is, un­til De­cem­ber 6th. In a clas­sic case of be care­ful what you wish for, Trump stood the world on its head by re­vers­ing 70 years of Amer­i­can pol­icy in the Mid­dle East. De­spite en­treaties from ev­ery­one in­clud­ing NATO Al­lies, Arab gov­ern­ments through­out the area and even the Pope, Trump an­nounced he was mov­ing the Amer­i­can em­bassy in Is­rael from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Like Trump, other politi­cians in the heat of an elec­tion cam­paign have promised to move their coun­try’s em­bassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In 1979, Con­ser­va­tive Leader Joe Clark made that prom­ise. It helped him win a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment. But once in of­fice, he re­al­ized his mis­take and en­listed for­mer Con­ser­va­tive Leader Robert Stan­field to help him aban­don his pledge. Stan­field led a com­mis­sion which “stud­ied” the ques­tion and rec­om­mended against the move.

That’s be­cause the ul­ti­mate fate of Jerusalem is an in­tri­cate part of any fu­ture Mid­dle East so­lu­tion. Both the Is­raelis and the Pales­tini­ans claim the his­toric city as their cap­i­tal. Now, by sid­ing with the Is­raeli claim, the most im­por­tant out­side par­tic­i­pant in any fu­ture set­tle­ment has picked a side in the dis­pute. Trump has made an al­ready in­tractable problem al­most im­pos­si­ble to solve.

How­ever, no longer can it be said that, un­der Trump, the United States has ab­di­cated its role in the world. The les­son go­ing for­ward is that as long as Trump is pres­i­dent, the United States will play the role in­ter­na­tion­ally that he is play­ing in do­mes­tic pol­i­tics.

More than any­thing else, Don­ald Trump is a dis­rup­tor. He is in do­mes­tic pol­i­tics and he is in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs. Un­tu­tored in his­tory, world af­fairs or diplo­macy, he re­sponds to sit­u­a­tions on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis, un­able to see con­nec­tive link­ages between dif­fer­ent prob­lems.

For in­stance, if he wanted to rec­og­nize Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal, why did he not first de­mand some­thing from the Is­raelis. A firm pledge to stop build­ing more set­tle­ments in the West Bank as a quid pro quo for the Jerusalem recog­ni­tion would have gone at least some way to mit­i­gat­ing the re­ac­tion to the move. And it would have re­moved a real im­ped­i­ment to a fu­ture fi­nal set­tle­ment.

Such an ar­range­ment would have been less dis­rup­tive than what we now have. But Trump doesn’t seem to care. As a dis­rup­tor he thrives on dis­rup­tion, on throw­ing ad­ver­saries and al­lies off bal­ance, seek­ing from their con­fu­sion an ad­van­tage for Amer­ica and for him­self.

Close to home, Cana­di­ans can see that strat­egy in the cur­rent ne­go­ti­a­tions on the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment. The United States has pro­posed sev­eral changes to the treaty that are com­plete non-starters for both Canada and Mex­ico. Soon Trump will in­form the U.S. Congress that he is giv­ing six months no­tice that he is ter­mi­nat­ing the deal. Then, in that half-year when NAFTA is in limbo, Amer­i­can ne­go­tia­tors will ap­ply the pres­sure. Ul­ti­mately, Canada will have to de­cide if a bad NAFTA is bet­ter than no NAFTA at all.

In the wider world, North Korea, China and Iran are ar­eas of in­tense Trump in­ter­est and con­cern. He al­ter­nately threat­ens and then hints at ne­go­ti­a­tions with them. How they re­spond at any given time seems to af­fect both his mood and his ap­proach. Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping al­ter­nates between be­ing an ally try­ing to con­tain North Korea and a com­peti­tor out to de­stroy Amer­i­can power.

Even with Kim Jong-Un, the er­ratic North Korean pres­i­dent who is de­vel­op­ing nu­clear mis­siles to hit North Amer­ica, Trump has vac­il­lated between threat­en­ing to oblit­er­ate his coun­try and ne­go­ti­at­ing.

When Don­ald Trump as­sumed of­fice in Jan­uary 2017, many peo­ple hoped his fiery, un­in­formed rhetoric of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign would be tem­pered once in power. That he would be­come more “pres­i­den­tial” in the tra­di­tional Amer­i­can way.

That has not hap­pened. One year on, he is as un­sta­ble and un­pre­dictable as ever. He dom­i­nates the do­mes­tic pol­i­tics of his coun­try. By his ac­tions in the Mid­dle East in De­cem­ber he has shown he will dom­i­nate in­ter­na­tional af­fairs as well.

Amer­ica has not aban­doned its in­ter­na­tional role. Un­der Don­ald Trump it is just play­ing it a dif­fer­ent way.

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