The Silver Lining in the Trump Cloud

by George Hatjoullis

The election of Trump (and the EU Referendum in the UK) brought a dark cloud over our future. It is however a cloud with a silver lining. The US has always pursued its own self-interest under the guise of seeking the greater good and by providing leadership. It has dropped the pretence. Under Trump it seeks its own naked self-interest. It does not pretend leadership though it will impose its will if necessary. And it can impose its will. For those that puzzle at my observation recall, Greece, Korea, Chile, Cyprus, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Does anyone expect Trump to be providing this kind of ‘leadership’? I don’t think so.

Trump has signed an executive order imposing a (largely temporary) travel ban on people born in one of 7 countries. Leaving aside the brutal arbitrariness and constitutional legality of this ban, it is instructive. The ban includes Iran. Why? His stated objective is to fight Islamic terrorism in general and ISIS in particular. ISIS is a sunni muslim movement. Iran is a shia state. The main opposition to ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been provided by shia forces. There is no evidence of which I am aware that shia muslims have been committing acts of terror against the US. The main sunni states, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, have not been subject to banning orders. The inclusion of Iran clearly has nothing to do with the terrorist threat. My suspicion is that it has to do with routine intelligence sharing. There is good intelligence sharing with sunni states such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey but little if any with Iran.

Trump has cast a sceptical eye (and Tweet) across many international institutions to which the US has contributed disproportionately in terms of finance (NATO and the UN come to mind). The payer of the piper has called the tune. These are US dominated institutions. If the US pulls back it will force others to step in or the institutions will fail. This may be the kind of catalyst that is needed. It would be untrue to say that these institutions have achieved nothing but it would be reasonable to say that they could do better and, in the case of NATO, may have outlived usefulness.

As Trump pulls the US back into its shell it leaves space for others to expand. This expansion may prove good or bad but at least it will be different. The global order is breaking down and it is unlikely Hillary Clinton would have halted the disintegration. Under Trump, the EU must either step up or face disintegration. It is about to be outflanked by a US-Russia alliance. It can no longer lumber on with its customary smug complacency.  In the middle-east, a Russia-Turkey alliance is in control. It may soon find space for the US to join. The EU will not be invited even though it bears the bulk of the refugee cost. The far east seems the most fragile as China seeks to make the seas its own and not just in name.

My concern before the US presidential election was not simply that Trump might be elected but that the status quo could not last and that Hillary Clinton was not up to the job of managing change. A dark cloud was about to enter our future one way or the other. The silver lining is that Trump’s election might dissipate complacency more quickly and bring into play positive offsetting forces. The Trump Presidency offers the prospect of an unpleasant and dangerous road to a possibly better future. A Clinton Presidency offered a more comfortable journey to almost certain disaster. The implicit assumption that all would have been well under Clinton is just that, an assumption.