Trump’s grand strategy and continuity with Obama: part I

What will be the grand strategy of Donald Trump? During the first travel abroad of the president some anticipation emerged coherently with what one could see between the electoral campaign and the first months into the presidency. To the surprise of many, US foreign policy under Trump will have some important elements of continuity with Obama’s foreign policy. His visit to Saudi Arabia – which he once attacked for its “complicity” with 9/11 – in part confirmed what stated in a previous post where I hinted at the resistance of Washington, D.C.’s establishment and at the possibility of a turn towards normalisation. In fact Donald Trump adopted a more indulgent and congratulatory stand with regard to terrorism while blaming regional instability onto Iran. This was “exactly the kind of rhetoric the Sunni strongmen of the region yearned for during the Obama years” (http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/05/21/donald-of-arabia-215170). Taking the distance from both Bush’s messianic discourse against Islam and Obama’s watered down version, Trump stated the US does not want to give lectures and let emerge a more pragmatic approach which sounds more similar to Obama’s style than Bush’s one: We are adopting a Principled Realism […] Our partnerships will advance security through stability, not through radical disruption. We will make decisions based on real-world outcomes – not inflexible ideology. […] And, wherever possible, we will seek gradual reforms – not sudden intervention” (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/05/21/president-trumps-speech-arab-islamic-american-summit). On the other hand, this was also a smart way of phrasing Trump’s intention to relive the US from responsibilities in Middle East’s. The deal on military armaments signed with the Saudis was in continuity with Obama’s strategy of disengaging America’s power from the Middle East. However, as different state managers adopts different solutions for long term objectives, while Obama signed the deal with Iran, Trump preferred to maintain his idiosyncratic and braggart view against Tehran – despite Iran’s internal politics became more moderate since Bush – and make a deal of $110 billion dollars which will require Saudi Arabia to consolidate its military power. As he stated in his remarks: “the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children” (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/05/21/president-trumps-speech-arab-islamic-american-summit). This was too similar to when Obama stated that “enabling long-term stability in the region, requires more than the use and presence of American military forces. For one, it requires partners who can defend themselves. We are therefore investing in the ability of Israel, Jordan, and our Gulf partners to deter aggression […] (p. 26, http://nssarchive.us/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/2015.pdf). Meanwhile the deal was also aimed at receiving sounding billions in investments – $400 billion – which is a reminder of Trump’s money-driven politics. Coherently with this, Trump “scolded his Nato allies for their “chronic underfunding” (https://www.ft.com/content/9212b3ea-416a-11e7-82b6-896b95f30f58), confirming the “burden-sharing” philosophy that characterized Obama’s grand strategy (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2346.2012.01073.x/full). In his remarks at the unveiling of Berlin Wall memorials he made clear in several passages what he further stressed in the conclusion of the speech: “this twisted mass of metal reminds us not only of what we have lost, but also what forever endures — the courage of our people, the strength of our resolve, and the commitments that bind us together as one” (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/05/25/remarks-president-trump-nato-unveiling-article-5-and-berlin-wall). While Saudi Arabia and Nato are two of the issues where there is a certain continuity between Obama and Trump, the third foreign policy matter that presents some similarity between the two presidents is Germany and its hegemony in the EU. In fact in several occasions Obama reproved Germany – among others – for its mercantilist foreign trade policy and in general for its delay in “shifting from a competitive posture to increasing domestic consumption” (pp. 4, 7, 29, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/international/exchange-rate-policies/Documents/2016-4-29%20(FX%20Pol%20of%20Major%20Trade%20Partner)_final.pdf). Not to mention Obama’s tension with Merkel over NSA’s spy when he stated that “we will not apologize simply because our services may be more effective” (https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2014/01/17/remarks-president-review-signals-intelligence). Similarly but with a more aggressive language, Trump stated in his recent trip that Germans are “bad, very bad” and stressed his concern for US imports of foreign cars (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/donald-trump-g7-summit-germans-bad-very-bad-car-imports-curb-us-trade-surplus-president-a7757106.html) confirming what explained at the beginning of the year by Navarro when every chance for the TTIP to be signed vanished: “is a multilateral deal in bilateral dress” (https://www.ft.com/content/57f104d2-e742-11e6-893c-082c54a7f539). Of course Obama’s meeting with Merkel during Trump’s trip in Europe confirmed the Afro-American president’s endorsement for multilateralism (http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/25/how-obama-undercuts-trump-238814), but it should not be perceived as if Trump’s attacks to Germany were born out of the new president’s madness, and it can be agreed that he “has a point” with regard to the fact that German exports are “artificially inflated”, as in fact Obama did (http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/05/26/trump-right-about-germany-trade-000445).
What discussed so far will define Trump’s grand strategy – D.C.’s establishment permitting! – for the Middle East and Europe. However there is another issue which is the most important of all other and it concerns China. Again, also about China there are important continuities with Obama. This will be the object of another post.

Zeno Leoni
@multipolarorder

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