It is remarkable that the 45th POTUS has been able to meet with Kim Jong-Un without any allies present, without China in the room and most importantly, without undue obstructionism from US Congress and the Democrats. This would never have been possible for President Obama and there are clear reasons why. This is the second step in a 10 step tango by POTUS 45 to shift and perhaps forever change, the 70 year old prevailing World Order.
Everyone in the world has an opinion about Donald J. Trump. In order to understand the man, you have to understand what makes him tick, work, react, and why he is undertaking the policies and actions he is in the realm of foreign policy and international affairs.
Donald J. Trump is the son of a self made man, a business man. He is neither from a political dynasty nor from politically correct East Coast Aristocracy. Trump himself is also a self made man and evidence of that is the fact that he has been bankrupt many times. His determination to win and succeed is substantiated by the fact that he has always been able to pull himself out, succeed and survive even at the high collateral cost.
Trump has no link to the military. None of his family have ever expressed an interest in serving in the military nor signed up. POTUS 45 himself does not regard the US Military as an essential stakeholder on any decisions he makes, he might take their advice and listen to their point of view but it is doubtful he would sway his own ultimate decision on any matter to give priority to their point of view.
Secondly, he does not run by any playbook. Trump is off script because he has lived his life and run his business by “personal-touch” negotiations. As POTUS said before the Singapore Summit yesterday, he will know in 10 minutes if Chairman Kim is to be trusted. So any amount of coaching and instructing will not make a difference and none of his advisors really know his mind – Trump is a rugged determined individual who does not believe in conventions of any sort, least of all those that define the political slipstreams of the Washington set.
It also accounts for Trump’s belligerent attitude towards others – it is perceived as arrogance – but it is a method for Trump to cocoon himself in a cover of bravado. Simply put, Trump has a huge inferiority complex which manifests as arrogance and priggish pushy stubbornness – even vis-a-vis other world leaders, notably the G6. No surprise therefore that Trump likes strong men – he himself is not a strong man rather he pus up the act of being a strong man but inside he is looking for confirmation and affirmation from others and admiration. That is why he needs to be at the center of all things and always seen as winning.
The strong man syndrome could come from his dad who obviously was a strong man. Trump most want to be associated with and admire, strong and hegemonic word leaders. Putin, Netanyahu, Xi and Kim are just his cup of tea and he admires them. Trudeau and female leaders like Merkel and May are all perceived by him as weak, nearly communist, bleeding heart liberals that do not impress him. Women in general hold a ambivalent place in the political appreciation of POTUS 45. At some deep place, he does not trust them to do the right thing, he questions their capacity. He will never acquiesce to them on knowledge or strategy. But with the strongmen leaders, Trump is more comfortable.
Trump does have a foreign affairs strategy and a modus operandi.
Trump sees US foreign policy as significantly flawed. He believes that the US has pandered for too long to Europe and other allies like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq without getting anything in return. POTUS 45 will not be encumbered with any moral or historic obligation to continue US financial and political support and participation in NATO and the cross-Atlantic alliance. He believes it his mission to cut these lingering engagement that are costing the US a lot of money but are not giving the US any significant economic advantage. In fact my prediction is that Trump will try and pull the US out of NATO or at least significantly decrease US financial and in-kind support to the mechanism.
It is more important for Trump to partner with the big strong economies in the world – Russia, China, India, Gulf Cooperation Countries, South East Asian countries. In Trump’s mind is also the need revamp key long-term relationships with Australia, Canada, Scandinavia and to an extent Latin America. He will only deal with the later on a new level playing field where the US is in a more favorable and trade-even relationship.
In a way, Trump feels free to dump the old relationship – he feels Europe should now be able to look after themselves. In his heart of hearts, Trump wants to end US military presences abroad – Korea, Japan, Philippines – unthinkable but he sees turning the relationship more towards trade and preferential economic agreements than military protection. His visit to Saudi Arabia was not political – it was economic. Trump is saying clearly that he sees military cooperation as the old 70 year strategy and the next 70 years will be based on economic opportunism, growth and a winning economic strategy.
In that sense, his strategy in foreign affairs is to turn away from militarism that has for so long defined American strategy abroad and initiate a new gameplay- economic partnership and preferential trading and economic rights. That is why Trump cannot work through WTO – he is against trade barriers and prescribed economic and trading blocks – he wants to open it all up.
Trump’s modus operandi is also new to Washington and to its allies. Trump pushes all situations to the limit, engendering an artificial crisis or a created argument – in order to allow for a creativity to enter a long established status quo – he is doing that with G6, NATO and North Korea. Crisis is opportunity to redraw the status quo and Trump is shaking it up literally, in order to renegotiate deals free from the shackles of history and the past of agreements. He has done this now in North Korea (although only time will tell if the Singapore Summit is a new beginning or a false start) and he is doing this in Iran and the Palestinian/Israeli situation. He has reopened Russia and China relations to create leverage where none existed till now. He used Russian membership to unseat and unbalance the G6.
In the end, Trump is not a “club member” – he is a rugged individual leader and his strategy and modus operandi provides him the tools to engage on his own terms. He wants to redraw longstanding agreements that constitute the cornerstone of the Global World Order because he wants to create the next 50 years for a forward-looking US.
As such the US is not the same partner that sat across the table from its partners. Trump is a change. Question is – will Trump’s strategy push the US forward and up or result in the collapse of established order into chaos?
In Trump’s world, chaos is opportunity.