The new U.S. administration is likely to make some important changes to U.S. foreign policy. At this stage it isn’t easy to predict exactly what will happen. The power of a U.S. president is not unlimited, even in foreign policy. During the Obama period, different parts of the US government machine sometimes appeared to have been pulling in different directions. Nevertheless it is possible to see some of what President Trump would like to achieve; and unlike President Obama, he is a very able leader who has built up and runs a large organisation. He has already seen a lot of the world outside America and has had business dealings with many of the people who run it.
The Trump foreign policy is likely to be based on one explicit objective. He will work for the good of the United States. The good of the United States will primarily, perhaps wholly, mean for him U.S. economic prosperity. U.S. prestige will count for something, but mainly because he believes that economic success can only be achieved by doing good deals. Good deals often depend on being respected by the other side. So some of his first actions may be designed to ensure that other countries clearly understand that the USA keeps its word and is not to be trifled with. He will do everything possible to maintain American military power, but he will ensure that the U.S. forces deliver more power for less public expenditure. He knows that all wars (amongst their many other undesirable characteristics) are very expensive. Except in the exceptional case of international terrorism, the U.S forces will be designed not to wage war but to prevent it.
It is much easier to make friends than to deal with opponents and the more friends one has, the more easily opponents can be dealt with. Donald Trump comes to the White House at a time when America has made more enemies than at any previous time. Although it still has many satellites (including, sadly, the U.K.) it now has very few real friends left. So the first foreign policy priority of the new Administration will probably be to repair relations with countries which have interests in common with America but whom America has needlessly antagonised. Of course the most important of these is Russia.
It seems certain that 2017 will see a great improvement in U.S. relations with Russia. The two Presidents – Trump and Putin – have not yet met. But they both appear eager to work together for the mutual benefit of their countries. Despite many recent events, it is hard really to find any rational reason why they should not. The old quarrel between the USA and the USSR was an ideological one. Both countries believed themselves to have found the unique secret of good government. Both believed the future belonged to them. Each saw the other as the dangerous obstacle in the way of that future. Each saw the other as an “Evil Empire”. In the end, the USSR’s belief in its unique destiny collapsed first. Sadly, the USA failed to take advantage of the rapprochement of equals which then became possible. The Warsaw Pact in fact fell apart but NATO expanded into Eastern Europe until it threatened to include even the Ukraine and Russia’s great naval base at Sebastopol. The resulting long-drawn out suffering in the Ukraine and particularly in the Eastern Ukraine still continues. This can only be solved by the USA withdrawing support from the Kiev regime and allowing the future of Russia’s western frontier to be determined by the people who live there. It seems probable that Trump sees this. But there may well be complications, which will be easier to resolve if the disharmony in the Middle East is resolved first.
The war against Muslim extremism, by contrast, can much more easily become an active Russo-U.S. partnership. Both are very much involved already. Russia has the clear aim of restoring civilised government to the whole of Syria in co-operation with President Assad and Assad’s Islamic friends, Iran and Hezbollah. America has made little serious attempt to defeat the terrorists and many sources suggest that it has actually supplied and encouraged them. Nevertheless a declared aim of the U.S. involvement is to to defeat them. All that is necessary is for America’s actions to conform to its words. Once the decision is made and effectively communicated to the U.S. forces there, it seems certain that the alliance (likely to include Turkey now as well) will make very short work of the enemy in both Syria and Iraq. Cooperation, and even comradeship, between U.S. and Russian forces in Syria and Iraq may hopefully lay the foundations for coordinated policies to tackle the extremists in Libya and elsewhere.
There are many good reasons why America and Russia should work together for the good of both countries and of the rest of the world. It is what the Russians, since the collapse of the USSR, have always wanted. But the active hostility which they have received from America in return has inevitably made them look for friends elsewhere; notably in China.
The new President’s policy towards China is likely to be based primarily on economics rather than politics. China is not a military threat to America, but Trump blames China’s competition and currency policy for much of the decline in the American economy. His policies towards China will be tough, but they are likely also to be clever. Like Putin, Trump is primarily interested in economic rather than military strength and prestige. But the Chinese leaders feel differently. To them, the most important priority is that China should fulfil its destiny in East Asia and that China’s power and China’s greatness (past and present) should be respected throughout the world. They feel very strongly about Taiwan and about the South China Sea. Taiwan and the South China Sea are expendable bargaining counters to Trump. He may use them at the right moment in return for economic concessions from China.
If Donald Trump has an irrational weakness, it is probably that he remembers his mother’s country and its traditions. When he comes here to meet the Queen and Theresa May, he is likely to set more store by the former meeting than by the latter. He has already made many friends here by his enthusiasm for Brexit and for Nigel Farage. Nigel will hopefully have some influence on his EU policy.
Trump’s presidency may make it possible to reform the Anglo-American relationship, to make it again a friendship between equals. It needs to develop into an informal association which includes not only Britain and America, but also Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland and some of the other countries of the Commonwealth.
This is a New Year and perhaps a new beginning. It is an opportunity to make the world a better, safer place for our children to live in.