November 8 May Redefine the Global Order
The closer we get to the polls in November, the more the 2016 election appears to be a referendum on the global security order. This is no longer the election of a conservative versus a progressive view of America’s role in the world. The election is not an one of a hawkish versus a dovish approach to war. 2016 is not even the same as 2012, when Mitt Romney said that the US’s biggest geopolitical threat is Russia. It’s astounding how much has changed in the last four years. This serves to affirm the importance of this election, if nothing else yet has.
At the end of April, Trump announced what he believed to be his foreign policy objectives, naming it “America First.” This is awkward naming given the history of the term: before the US joined the Second World War, a isolationist, anti-Semitic group called the “America First Committee” advocated for American appeasement for Hitler. It was an ugly time in the American story, and it is astounding that Trump has named his foreign policy approach after this gross scar on our nation’s history.
In the middle of July, the Trump campaign criticized The New York Times for quoting him on his views on NATO, saying he was misquoted and taken out of context. In turn, NYT published the transcript of the entire interview, during which even his NATO comments were overshadowed by the sheer absurdity of nearly every other sentence in the interview.
Trump’s views on NATO include not responding to breaches of state sovereignty to intervene on behalf of allies. Yet the only NATO country to have ever invoked Article 5 (that an attack on any member is an attack on all members) is the United States in the wake of 9/11. The first ever NATO counterterror program, Eagle Assist, ran for about 7 months. The second program, Active Endeavor, began in 2001 and was then expanded in 2004.
Our NATO allies came to stand in solidarity with us in the wake of our generation’s biggest national tragedy.
So why is it that NATO obligations, in turn, do not matter to Trump?
Well, he contends, it’s about payment. That’s right — Donald Trump believes that member states who do not “pay up” are not worthy of defending, as if the US military is running a protection racket. (It also may be worthwhile to point out that repaying debts is a strange point to make for someone who’s companies have declared bankruptcy several times.)
While I think there may be reason to reassess a tangle of defense pacts of which NATO is one small part, I’m not entirely sure this is the way to approach that. Trump isn’t talking about reassessing treaties to avoid another world war. He’s talking about reassessing NATO for the economic impacts of it and at least in part for its impact on Russia. Yes, there may be economic impacts of NATO, but I hardly believe that our military is bankrupting us solely for preparing to defend our allies. I doubt that this involvement is negatively impacting the average American worker. It’s a stupid stance to take, and strange that it’s the view the forerunner for the Republican Party is currently taking.
In addition to this weird Mafia-style approach to global security, Trump’s statements on NATO also show his complete and total ignorance to the purpose of forward-deployed troops. We have troops in Germany and Greece and the UK for the same reasons that we have troops in Japan and Egypt and Texas. A global military force is able to respond to threats at the source if needed. Rather than waiting for orders, then waiting another several hours for logistics (air travel, loadout supply, &c.), our military leaders acknowledge that a wait for orders is a wait long enough. The State Department acts on the same principle and deploys representatives in home countries because that proximity matters when an emergency breaks.
And, yes, a president and an American and any human being can criticize whether this forward-positioning is worthwhile or just, but that’s not the value that Trump is critiquing current US policy on. This bizarre ignorance is something that I’m flabbergasted was allowed to make it to the mouth of the potential leader of the party of Lincoln and Reagan.
He has wondered why we have troops in Japan, almost in the same breath as discussing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Maybe, then, we can assume he doesn’t even know how missile defense systems work? There are so many chances to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, but I’m not entirely sure that’s a valuable exercise after so many chances.
Trump’s NATO criticisms have a troubling context. Trump has said many times that he respects Putin and that he appreciates the compliments he is getting from the Russian president. The GOP platform is the most pro-Russia platform we have seen from either party ever, almost entirely due to changes encouraged by hardcore Trump delegates at the Convention. Trump has indicated a desire to be on good terms with Russia, but does not seem to understand the years-long relationship the American president has had to Vladimir Putin in saying this — he isn’t saying he wishes for working towards a diplomatic relationship, he’s just said he encourages working with their military and foreign policy staff abroad. I’m not entirely sure how he will mesh this approach when nearly every foreign policy action by the US abroad is either not supported by Russia or has been denounced/directly acted against.
After the alleged Russian hack of DNC email servers, Donald Trump said three times in an hour-long press conference that Russian hackers should release Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails. These are emails that Trump himself believes contain national security secrets that would be dangerous if released, yet he looked into the CSPAN camera to address Russian hackers directly. Sure, the Trump campaign is now saying it was all a joke, but no presidential candidate from either party has ever encouraged hackers from a hostile country to hack a current or former US cabinet member.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s top adviser, has sketchy consulting ties to Viktor Yanukovych, an anti-West Ukrainian former presidential candidate. Yanukovych’s opponent was poisoned during the campaign, igniting massive protests. Manafort may have not acted in an official capacity during this time, but Manafort did consult for Yanukovych’s party starting in 2006 and up through the beginnings of Yankovych’s 2010 presidential run. Manafort, at that time, was consulting directly with the presidential candidate’s campaign, much to the surprise of both pro-Russian and pro-Western observers. Manafort also managed an investment fund for a Russian magnate dealing in aluminum. The mogul has a close relationship to Putin.
Donald Trump has said he has no dealings with Russia, and no contact with Putin. The first cannot be confirmed as Trump has refused to release his tax returns even to this day. The language here is a little sketchy, because there is evidence that Trump does deal at least economically with a lot of Russians. These Russians may not be tied to the government, but Trump’s dealings with Russian investors and billionaires are fairly extensive. The 2013 Miss Universe pageant was held in Moscow, in part because of the company run by a very pro-Putin businessman with many similarities to Trump. He has also attempted several times to build a new Trump property in Moscow, but to no avail yet.
When asked about Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Trump said he would examine sanctions placed on Russian affiliates in response to the illegal action. This is not an outright condemnation, and for a man who has so many strong views about things, it’s pretty telling that Trump instead said he would be “looking at” the situation to determine the way forward (unsurprising, though, that Trump was again vague to the point of his statement being nearly meaningless).
Baltic states have begun to worry about a potential Russian invasion, reporting sightings of new planes and an increase in military training operations nearby. These are all understandably worrying things to observe for states in close proximity to a country that sent troops into Ukraine and Crimea just 2 years ago. Trump has said that he is not sure whether he would come to aid these states should Russia invade, indicating that unless the states were paying into what he seems to believe to be a protection racket, he would stay out of it.
Trump has also expressed dismay at NAFTA and says that he wishes to renegotiate the deal. As with most policy ideas, Trump refuses or does not know specifics of what an amended NAFTA would look like, nor what specific areas of the trade agreement he would address. “Making winning deals” is not a policy position because no diplomat ever goes into a meeting hoping for a terrible deal.
Trump cites domestic issues as reason to not preach about human rights and democracy abroad. It’s an interesting stance, but again comes from a kind of strange value. He says he values allies abroad, and this criticism, he indicates, is in direct conflict with maintaining those relationships. This is a stance that he has said within minutes of criticizing our relationship to our NATO allies. It’s a stance that he doesn’t maintain across his candidacy as he has criticized the relationship the US has with Saudi Arabia because they kill gay people and restrict women’s rights.
His views on solving years-long conflict or lasting tension is to put groups together, by having meetings. In regards to Erdogan and Kurdish forces, Trump said “if I win, we will have meetings, we will have meetings very early on.” This as an approach for ending the struggle between the AKP and Kurds would not pass an undergraduate security studies class assignment and should not be something permissible for a presidential candidate to profess. (Never mind that the PKK, a Kurdish group, is on the US terror list and, despite US coordination with the Syrian YPG, they are not necessarily friendly with the US.)
The US has had a significant presence in many major events in foreign politics and US experts and diplomats are asked for advice in many others. Yes, this involvement is slowly waning and has decreased significantly under Obama’s presidency (two ground invasions happened in his predecessor’s two terms, to put this in context). I think a lot of Americans are fatigued with how involved in global politics the United States has become, and who knows how many people abroad are tired of the US’s persistent meddling in their affairs.
However, it should still be shocking how drastic of a change Donald Trump seems to want in regards to America’s role in global politics. It’s not isolationist entirely, as Trump isn’t clearly advocating for removal of troops abroad, but he seems interested in removing troops from “rich” countries and potentially from countries who are not paying dues to the United States. This approach is something I expect from a Civ game, but not what I envisioned seeing from a candidate for president from a major party.
Trump is looking to renegotiate or back out of some of the most significant treaties of which the US is a part. NAFTA is nearly as old as the EU, from which the UK exit is disastrous and a terrible shot at one of the most successful peace-keeping organizations ever. NATO is only 3 years younger than Trump himself. I’m not sure why 2016 seems like the year that NATO obligations need to be questioned by a candidate who seems to think the US military is weak to begin with.
So when we all go to the polls this November, we have a lot to think about. Of course, we have a plethora of social, economic, and domestic issues that Trump stands for. This includes but is not limited to a ban on Muslims, a literal wall on our southern border, and a massive tax break for the wealthiest in the country. All this is important to consider and will have major impacts, but within the realm of the global security status quo, Trump has just as many strange and dangerous views. In this sense, this election will be a referendum on sentiment towards the global security regime.
Hillary, for the most part, is a candidate for much-of-the-same-as-current when it comes to the areas identified by Trump. Trump is looking to reevaluate America’s situation in the realm of global security. Even ignoring his ties to Russia and clear ignorance of politics of most countries he talks about, renegotiations of NATO, NAFTA, and military base presence abroad are a worrying thing on which to campaign. I don’t think many people were expecting Donald Trump — a businessman, former Democrat, and reality TV star — to be the one to prompt a reevaluation of the philosophy of America’s role abroad, but I’m pretty sure I would rather not have the future of the world order rest on the shoulders of a man who jumps on the opportunity of mass death to say he himself was right.