On April 27th, Donald Trump made a much vaunted foreign policy speech that was supposed to elucidate his plans for the rest of the world with a more nuanced and detailed description. If you analyse Trump's speech along the prevailing views of foreign policy and international policy, he seems as incoherent as ever flip-flopping several times in the speech. He starts by criticising America's allies for freeloading before saying that the Obama administration is letting those same allies down when they depend on America. He talks of avoiding any more military involvement in the Middle East when threatening massive military action against ISIS and threatening to tear up the nuclear deal with Iran. Most aspects of his speech are contradicted by other parts. However there is one thread of narrative running through the speech that does give an inkling on what Trump's main motivation in foreign policy will be.
Trump's address was riddled with references to respect or rather the disrespect he believes is regularly shown to America under Obama. There are three main variants of this. The first is Allies who freeload on America with Trump demanding a summit with both NATO and Asia-Pacific allies in order to discuss what he euphemistically calls the "re-balancing of financial commitments". It doesn't matter to Trump that the American economy gains far more from the stability of these regions than it pays to ensure that stability; there simply won't be free riders when America is 'made great' again.
The second variant is rivals who sneer and thumb their nose at America which according to Trump happens because they perceive weakness. He states that relations with Russia and China have suffered because America under Obama, it is seen as a weak and decadent state, and must show strength (he notes that "China respects strength" in a tone not heard since the 19th century) in order to resolve America's disputes with them, to its advantage. In the case of China, Trump favours a 'scream loudly and carry a big stick' approach, stating that the issues of North Korea and the trade imbalance between the two countries could be solved in America's favour if America had 'leverage' over China whereas with Russia without apparent self-awareness or irony he seems to favour the 'reset button' mode of Russo-American relations of his bête noires, Clinton and Obama.
It is with the final variant that Trump shows how far his obsession with respect and disrespect goes. He vents forth on personal snubs to Obama from foreign leaders not greeting him at the airport to America not being awarded the Olympic Games which somehow is due to him being seen as puny and ineffectual throughout the globe. Trump's fixation with respect is simplistic to the point of ridiculousness. If only America's allies and rivals and enemies had a healthy mix of fear and admiration then America's economy would improve, all its international problems from ISIS to North Korea would magically disappear and America would even get to host global sporting events more often! It's a worldview born of the brash world of Manhattan real estate and reality television and outside those sheltered environs, it's an approach that will not survive first contact with the reality of ruling the world's leading power.
That there is so much emphasis on respect and more importantly disrespect isn't surprising when Trump's domestic campaign benefits from the feelings of disrespect many alienated Americans feel from the political and economic establishment in their own country. Trump is so adept at exploiting these grievances because even the tiniest slight on his character is treated as the gravest personal insult one could face. A Trump administration would be a petty and vindictive one. If Trump places so much value on respect, then how will he deal with the smallest of criticisms from foreign leaders? How can he be relied on not to overreact to a terrorist attack at home or the plight of an American national abroad causing a bad situation to get even worse? How can someone so emotionally brittle and with such a fragile sense of self-worth be expected to lead the most powerful nation the earth has ever seen?
Trump simply isn't thick skinned, mature or intelligent enough to be President. His recent failed attempts at becoming 'more presidential are proof of that. It would be better for all involved if he stayed in his cloistered world of staged television and New York penthouses, where he would be guaranteed all the respect he could ever want, and American would be guaranteed a chance of better leadership.
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