Saturday, February 04, 2017

The New Trump Team and the Middle East

There is so much amateurishness in the new Trump team on foreign policy in general.  The administration also suffers from lack of the traditional Democratic and Republican foreign policy experts (not that they are good) who are willing to work for it and to continue the course of the US empire from previous administrations.  But the Empire despite jitters and bumps, will continue the course of the same foreign policy--pretty much (there was an article in the Times yesterday about how the administration is now marching to the tune of the Obama's administration).  I think what will apply to the foreign policy is the law of unintended consequences.  I was talking to my IR class yesterday: Trump is gambling in foreign policy and confuses verbal toughness with toughness of the state, and they are not the same.  And if he keeps the verbal toughness on Twitter and elsewhere they will have a diminishing value as they continue.  If this toughness is not matched by substantial changes on the ground, they will become more and more meaningless, and will be judged so by US enemies.  I mean, despite the tough talk on Iran, what he has done is a continuation of Obama's foreign policy which basically added more and more sanctions, at every juncture.  He spoke about scrapping the Nuclear deal but thus far seems to adhere to it.  And he is not knowledgeable enough to play the brinkmanship game, which could easily lead to a war or confrontation which he had not expect.  John Kennedy was far more knowledgeable on foreign policy than Trump and more importantly spoke to more people and solicited a wider advice.  And by having his brother by his side in the Cuban Missile Crisis, he was able to seek the opinion of someone who can tell him when he is wrong and foolish.  Trump does not have that: the men (all men) around him, don't seem to be able to do that. His son-in-law won't play the role of RFK: he is the son-in-law which carries a different dynamics.  Trump's excessive faith in military power will carry its own frustration and may even cause tensions in his relationship with the US military (remember that exchange between Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright in which he told her that US armed forces are not toy soldiers?).  But I also believe that his stormy first days in office indicate that he will keep most of his domestic policy promises but will break most of his foreign policy promises.  The foreign policy of an Empire is too established and too heavy to be simply changed by an new occupant in the White House.  He promised to scrap the Nuclear deal and now he is adhering to it.  He promised to move the embassy to Tel Aviv, and he has not done so.  He was not clear  whether he will stick to US policies against settlements or in favor of the two-states and now he seems to want to.  He promised a break in relations with Russia but now seems be restrained by GOP in US Congress.  He bashed NATO and now is sending emissaries to reassure NATO.  And most importantly: the biggest indication that he will not fulfill his foreign policy promises is the relationship with Gulf regimes; altering bashing Saudi regime all his life and during the campaign, he now seems quite eager to maintain and even build on the alliance with that regime. He sold them arms already and is coordinating with them on various matters. Saudi regime has been quite ecstatic in the last few days. This validates the stance of people like me who don't invest neither in the Republicans or the Democrats and who maintain that the ability of a president to substantially change the course of US foreign policy is rather minimal.  Having said all that, I think Trump, by virtue of his personality and the lack of strong powerful advisors who can defy him or sway him, Trump may cause big changes in foreign policy  but not on purpose.  The unintended consequences will be the most dangerous symptoms of this administration (the damage in domestic policy will be intentional).

PS And the news that Elliott Abrams will occupy the second most important position in the US Department of State mean that power will return to neoconservatives in the State Department.  I have not been impressed with the power exercise by Tillerson at all.  He does not strike me as the type who will win bureaucratic battles, not even against Flynn or Bannon.