After the first weekend of Trump's presidency, we have a few clues. Trump believes in "peace through strength" and wants to revitalize an American military he claims is "depleted." In his inaugural address, he vowed to defeat the Islamic State and eradicate "radical Islamic terrorism" — a phrase he is not afraid to repeat ad nauseam — "completely from the face of the earth."
How his administration intends to achieve any of that remains to be seen. But there is one clear message to be heard: Trump's mantra of "America First." The slogan has an unsavory past — originally invoked by fascist sympathizers before World War II — but Trump intends to recycle it for our uncertain modern times.
Based on his own rhetoric, here's an early breakdown of what we think "America First" will mean for the world:
No need for a moral superpower: "The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies," Trump said at his inauguration. It was a clear dismissal of the neoconservative project that once animated the Republican Party — the belief that the United States should actively seek to spread democracy and American values, even when they're delivered via tank and Humvee.
But Trump is not an isolationist, as he has sometimes been described. Rather, by banging the drum of "America First," Trump is declaring an end not to American engagement with the world but to the long-familiar patterns of that engagement.
Trump believes in the importance of nation-to-nation deals over multilateral trade pacts or any other international arrangements. Positions that were once the cornerstones of American diplomacy — such as the "One China" policy or support for human rights and the rule of law — could become mere bargaining chips to be traded away in some future bilateral deal.
When Trump mentions "old enemies" becoming friends, you can imagine the president is pointing to Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin has cast a huge, troublesome shadow over American politics in the past year. Just last night, in fact, news broke that U.S. counterintelligence agents have investigated connections between Trump's national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, and Russian officials.
And the only "old friend" poised to become an even closer ally is Israel: Trump's coddling of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his proposed relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem, will put the United States increasingly at odds with the rest of the international community.
The siren song of nationalism: Trump sent shockwaves through Europe last week when he deemed NATO "obsolete" and seemed to support the further disintegration of the European Union after having celebrated Britain's move toward Brexit.
Rather than reaching out to the politicians and leaders who have worked so closely with previous administrations, Trump has courted — and drawn inspiration from — Europe's once-fringe extremists. Trump was the name on everyone's lips at a meeting in the German city of Koblenz this weekend of top European nationalist leaders, a gathering that included a party founded by former Nazis.
"2016 was the year when the Anglo-Saxon world woke up. And 2017, I am sure, will be the year of the awakening of the people of continental Europe," declared Marine Le Pen, the head of France's far-right National Front and a genuine contender in the French presidential election in May. "We are experiencing the end of one world and the birth of another," she went on. "We are experiencing the return of nation-states."
The primacy of the "nation-state" is at the heart of Trump's worldview. He has invoked it to justify building a wall on Mexico's border, banning Muslim arrivals to the United States and turning the country's back on the desperate plight of Syrian refugees. Similar anti-immigrant sentiment fuels Europe's far-right and threatens the whole future of the European project. Trump, rather than defending old alliances and the Western liberal order, may cheer their continued unraveling from the sidelines.
"Trump’s nationalism is an obvious European import, a blood and soil ethnic politics that the Republican Party’s corporate-minded elite had kept at bay ever since importing its adherents from the Democrats in the 1960s," wrote Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith, after interviewing Trump's chief ideologue, Steve Bannon.
Rejection of cosmopolitanism: Both Trump and Bannon rage against the "globalism" of urban elites.
The jet-setting corporate executive (minus Trump himself), the well-heeled attendees of conclaves like the World Economic Forum, the E.U. technocrats in Brussels, the sophisticated Washington insider, the multicultural pop star on everyone's Twitter feed — all are villains in the grand populist tableau painted by Trump and Europe's nationalists. These cosmopolitans, the argument goes, have obscured or neglected the real, "forgotten" men and women of the nation.
Trump's thinly disguised ethnic nationalism is a total reversal of his predecessor's projection of American power and values. Obama placed an emphasis on the interdependence of nations and the complexity of a 21st century world where no single country can call the shots. Critics say his "cosmopolitan worldview" fell apart in the face of the sectarian tensions of the Middle East and the meddling of illiberal, authoritarian leaders like Putin — people Trump believes he can do business with.
“Real power,” Obama said in an interview last year, “means you can get what you want without having to exert violence."
The new American president has no such idealism.
But how will this all translate into policy? Already, questions loom over the array of former generals and officers tapped to counsel the president on foreign affairs and national security.
"Trump has appointed a strong-willed national security team, some of whose views have already clashed with campaign bedrock, including an 'obsolete' NATO, a wall with Mexico and common ground with Russia," writes Washington Post senior national security correspondent Karen DeYoung. "How they will relate to each other, and to a White House with its own cast of powerful characters and a still-undefined hierarchy, remains unknown. Long before four years are over, perhaps as soon as the end of 2017, some of them will probably be gone."
DeYoung lays out the immediate, complex problems facing the new administration:
"Early challenges will likely come from North Korea, which has promised to test a new long-range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to U.S. shores, and Ukraine, where U.S. and European sanctions against Russian intervention will have to be renewed or dropped. In Syria, a promised new counterterrorism alliance with Russia will have to be weighed against Russia’s alliance with Iran, even as more military spending and a possible trade war with China will require balancing against Trump’s promised 4 percent U.S. growth rate.
"And, as George W. Bush and Barack Obama discovered, the best-laid strategic plans tend to be disrupted by the unexpected."
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