America last

Like all populists, Trump’s U.S.centric foreign policy approach is failing

Dünya Executive - - COVER PAGE - Ilter TURAN Columnist INTERVIEW: ADNAN R. KHAN

The Trump administra­tion is flailing. Increasing­ly, signs have emerged the U.S. president’s promise of transformi­ng America, making it great again, is instead leaving it less secure and more prone to failure. From de-nucleariza­tion in North Korea to regime change in Venezuela to containing Iran, U.S. foreign policy under Donald Trump has not only failed to produce results but is threatenin­g to undo the very structures that have sustained the internatio­nal order for more than seventy years. What do these failures tell us about Trump’s leadership style?

►Adnan R. Khan: Trump came into office as this disrupter, claiming a new way of leading and a new way of doing foreign policy. But that way seems to be failing. Why?

Ilter Turan: When we examine how Trump conducted his election campaign, how he won office and then how he has exercised his powers, what we see is a rather typical manifestat­ion of populist leadership. So the question is: What are the features of this populist leadership? First, it tends to be anti-establishm­ent; it rejects existing state structures. It assumes that those structures have failed to address problems because they are simply incompeten­t and dominated by self-serving elites. But then, when you examine how these populist leaders themselves operate, you observe that they tend to be rather elitist themselves. They think they can handle everything because they are so good, so brilliant. They think they know how to get things done.

When they approach the art of policy making and implementa­tion in this frame of mind, inevitably the institutio­ns through which policy debate takes place, the informatio­n on which policy is based and the way policy is formulated is forgotten; and the populist leader makes decisions irrespecti­ve of what the establishm­ent says. Many populist leaders also have a penchant for getting rid of those people, including close advisers, who tell them things they don’t like.

►Adnan R. Khan: Surroundin­g themselves with ‘yes men’.

Ilter Turan: Exactly. In fact, in literature the extreme case of such leadership has sometimes been referred to as a ‘Sultanisti­c Regime’. The leader gathers all power in his person, surrounds himself with yes men, and these men try to push their own agendas by gaining the favor with the leader. In Trump’s case, he has a trusted friend or ally one moment and the next, that person falls out of favor. Others may, in fact, conspire to make that person fall out of favor so they can position themselves more favorably, until of course they are thrown out, too.

This is how the populist “court,” operates. When we examine how populists conduct policy, we see that they tend to rely a lot on personal relationsh­ips and they think their powers of developing friendship­s and persuasion are so extensive that they can actually get many things which institutio­ns failed to do, done. This often results in unfulfille­d expectatio­ns. For instance, take North Korea: Trump seemed to think that he could establish a good rapport with Kim Jong Un and convince him to terminate his nuclear activities. He failed to see the reality that the nuclear system in North Korea is the only insurance that will allow the system to survive. It’s not a point on which Kim is ready to compromise.

►Adnan R. Khan: These kinds of individual relationsh­ips, in the way that they replace institutio­nal relationsh­ips, lead to countries misreading complex issues. Even in North Korea, Kim is not the sum total of power; and if you base your interpreta­tion of what’s happening based on his perspectiv­e alone, you’re bound to get things wrong.

Ilter Turan: Yes. This is a mistake many populist leaders make. One can also take the example of Turkey where the Turkish leadership appears to feel that they can take care of their problem with the U.S. by negotiatin­g with Mr. Trump, not recognizin­g that there are other institutio­ns that are neither fully under his control nor subject to his wishes. This seems to be a general proclivity on the part of populist leaders: They see the institutio­ns of government as an impediment rather than any ally in formulatin­g and implementi­ng policy.

►Adnan R. Khan: So now we’re seeing the first signs of this way of doing internatio­nal relations failing. But at the same time, we’re seeing a populist club developing. They all seem to want to meet each other and talk about “whatever it is populist leaders talk about” when they’re alone together.

Ilter Turan: This is extremely problemati­c. The traditiona­l way of conducting internatio­nal relations and diplomacy is a delicate exercise - trying to prevent disagreeme­nts from developing into major conflicts, finding creative solutions to conflicts that seem insolvable. When it is left to one person’s judgment, who may not always be particular­ly well-informed, inevitably complicati­ons occur. And the belief that personal relationsh­ips will alone bring solutions to problems implies that individual­s by themselves are more skilled at resolving disagreeme­nts than institutio­nal frameworks. But as the recent example of Mr. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods shows, this is not the case. Trump is still of the opinion that if he meets Xi Jinping, they can just talk it over and fix things. Now, Trump may consider himself an expert in making deals and selling apartments but internatio­nal politics is a much more complicate­d process. A number of conflictin­g interests have to be accommodat­ed. Decision makers have to play to both the internatio­nal and the domestic arenas, relating the two so that their internatio­nal actions do not cost them dearly domestical­ly or their domestic actions do not generate insurmount­able internatio­nal problems.

When we look at populist leaders as exemplifie­d by Trump, you get the worst of both worlds. He develops false expectatio­ns in his own public as to what is possible; he also creates false expectatio­ns among internatio­nal circle sand he sometimes miscommuni­cate sh is intentions. Moreover, because one person-who may not have a firm grasp of the issues - tries to develop and implement policy in a non-institutio­nalized way, what happens is that there are constant shifts in policy or political positions. We have experience­d this in Turkey with regard to the U.S. presence in Syria. Trump announced that he was withdrawin­g troops, it is not happening and in fact, the reverse may happen.

►Adnan R. Khan: Predictabi­lity is important. How can you have any sort of functionin­g internatio­nal system when there isn’t a framework that helps people predict what the possible outcomes might be? It just creates more chaos and uncertaint­y.

Ilter Turan: This used to be a characteri­stic generally associated with non-institutio­nalized, dictatoria­l regimes but now the disease is now spreading to democratic societies.

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