President Trump seems to have a foreign policy that is constantly changing. Many analysts have documented how he says one thing on a twitter post and says or does another thing a few hours later.
This repeated uncertainty about what he thinks or intends to do has been deeply disconcerting to almost everyone. Within the United States, his own major appointees seem to take positions that are different from his. And in any case, they are often not forewarned about shifts in line. Even some of his most faithful popular supporters find the changes confusing (although they may not find it a reason to cease supporting him).
Outside the United States, presidents, prime ministers, and diplomats seem disturbed by the unpredictability or lack of clarity of Trump’s views. This is often stated in the following fashion: We now know x, but this is a tactical position. What is Trump’s long-range vision, or does he have one?
If one puts oneself in Trump’s shoes, the picture might be very different. First of all, if I Trump am unpredictable, I have some extra strength in my position, since the others may try to accommodate in advance what they think is my position.
In addition the incoherence of my position is a way of gauging what is the position that will best serve my interests, which is to increase my power within and outside the United States. Maintaining my personal position and secondarily that of the United States is my primary goal. I do not have and do not want to have a “vision” or long-term commitment. I am not an ideologue but a person who seeks a position of dominance.
Now let us shift to the perspective of that of the majority of the world’s population who are not Trump supporters. Indeed, the majority fear Trump’s “incoherence” since, as president of the United States, he controls the U.S. military and its terrible weaponry. We, the majority, fear that he is not in control of himself. We fear that he is egoistic and very thin-skinned, and may launch irreversible actions in a moment of pique.
For this reason, we would be relatively happier if he did have a long-term vision and therefore a commitment to certain activities that would override moments of pique. In short we want him to be coherent. We want him to be committed to something, whether that something is human rights or immigration control. We want greater certainty.
So there we have it. Almost everyone dislikes the lack of long-term vision. Almost everyone thinks it would be better from their point of view if he had one. Almost everyone wants him to be an ideologue. The principal dissident from this hope is Trump himself.
I personally think this whole mode of analysis is upside down. I think it would be worse, not better, if he had a vision, a commitment, an ideology. Let me explain. It has to do with what can minimize the damage that Trump can do to the United States and to the world in his double capacity as (1) uncontested leader of a worldwide social movement and (2) the elected U.S. president plus leader of the Republican Party.
I am interested in what we all can do to affect his actual decisions. There are now resistance campaigns in the United States and elsewhere. There are major world powers (I think particularly of China, Russia, and Iran) that seek to force him to modify his positions.
As far as I can tell, both the resistance campaigns and the efforts of other major world powers have indeed had an effect, and have led him at various points to modify his position. I think they have a fair chance of keeping the United States from too much involvement in the Middle Eastern quagmire. Too much is not zero. But reducing the involvement is better than nothing at all.
The reason that these efforts may force a modification of his position is precisely because he does not have a firm commitment to anything. His unpredictability is the sole weapon the rest of us have against Trump the warrior. To make him less unpredictable means to make him less open to change. In a way, it would doom us.
What we should keep our eyes on in the coming months is further arrangements with China. The recent meeting of President Xi of China and Trump was a good start and is evidence for the position I took a short while ago that the two countries will move closer and not further apart. We should watch whether anything really serious is done to “punish” Russia, or to break the improved relations with Iran.
I suspect that Trump may turn out to be the great “undecider.” This will of course weaken his position. But doing anything else will weaken his position even more. Hurrah for unpredictability!
Immanuel Wallerstein, Senior Research Scholar at Yale University, is the author of The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World (New Press).
Copyright ©2017 Immanuel Wallerstein — distributed by Agence Global
Released: 15 April 2017
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