The global implications of a Trump presidency

The presidential elections on 8 November 2016 are looming, and with the polls showing Donald Trump only narrowly behind Hilary Clinton, the prospect of a Trump presidency is now being taken seriously around the world’s embassies.

The first presidential debate is due on Monday 26 September and will be a key moment in this extraordinary election campaign. Should Donald Trump perform well and connect with the tens of millions of Americans watching, the momentum will very likely take him to the White House. There is still a possibility that the Trump campaign could still implode in the coming weeks, but the most likely outcome, will be a victory for the Republicans on election night.

I intend to outline in this article, the likely global implications of the rise to power of President Donald J Trump, as we enter into the era of Scarcity Industrialism. The world faces significant challenges, including accelerating manmade climate change, growing resource scarcity, and instability across the North Africa and Middle East (“MENA”) region, the rise of radical Islam and the fragmentation of the European Union (“EU”) post-Brexit with the rise of populist right-wing forces across the Continent.  These are not separate trends but are in fact intertwined, feeding off each other and deepening the disintegration of the post-war liberal international order.

At the root of these multiple challenges are the Limits to Growth mega-trend, so eerily forecast by the Club of Rome report published in the early 1970’s, and explored in my recent post “winter is coming”. A President Trump will have to navigate these treacherous waters and react to major international events in the context of these looming global headwinds.

Donald Trump’s core foreign policy idea is an “American First” approach to global commitments, treaty alliances and free trade. Critics have styled this approach as isolationism but it is in fact a return to the realpolitic “realist” tradition of international relations under the Nixon-Kissinger era. It was not a coincidence that the location of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech was at the former Nixon Centre in Washington DC.

Trump’s instincts will be to work with authoritarian leaders, jettison the ideology of human rights and liberal internationalism and drive hard bargains through the leverage of American military and economic dominance. Donald Trump’s background is a real estate billionaire and being “unpredictable” is an important part of negotiations. Trump will thus employ the Nixonian “Madman” strategy of disorientating both allies and adversaries around the world to maximum affect, as he develops and matures, as a world leader.

Donald Trump understands that with the gigantic American national debt growing, the long-term sustainability of the vast global network of military bases and treaty commitments to her allies is untenable. A partial strategic withdrawal and rebalancing of America’s global role is therefore a realist response to the crushing monetary burden of being the self-appointed world policeman. The strategic thinker and national security advisor under the Carter Administration Zbigniew Brzezinski has recently also argued such a shift in foreign policy in the American Interest.

Trump goes to Russia

If elected, a President Trump will arrange a grand strategic reset in relations with the Russian Federation. This Nixonian “Trump goes to Russia” pivot will likely include a deal to secure the future of the Syrian Assad regime, close military cooperation in the crushing of ISIS in the Middle East and the de facto drawing up of spheres of influence in the borderlands between Russia and Eastern Europe.

President Putin and President Trump will also agree to a realpolitik deal on Ukraine (which could be split in two or become a neutral buffer zone outside of NATO), the recognition that Belarus is part of the Russian sphere and a de facto or de jure agreement that Crimea is recognised as part of the Russian Federation. The crippling economic sanctions on Russia will be lifted in return for President Putin guaranteeing the security of Eastern Europe, joining an American led alliance against the rising great power China and cooling relations with Iran.

It is even conceivable that Trump will unilaterally agree to effectively dissolve NATO and replace it with a pan-European security architecture, including Russia, focused on counter-terrorism. President Putin will reorient the Russian strategic focus eastwards in return for guaranteeing the borders of a post-NATO Europe. Such a deal would place the bulk of the responsibility for the future defence of Europe on European shoulders, something very much in line with previous comments by Donald Trump.

The Brussels cold shoulder

The bulk of the European political class will be stunned and horrified by a victory of Donald Trump. Relations between Europe and America will return to a diplomatic Ice Age, far worse even, than during the run up to the 2nd Iraq war. Donald Trump will be the first US president to oppose the European project and welcomed the decision by the British public to leave the EU, when he visited Scotland on 24th June 2016.

One of the beneficiaries of a Trump presidency will be Prime Minister Theresa May of Great Britain, who will find a powerful ally, as article 50 is invoked at some point next year to leave the EU. European leaders will be profoundly troubled by the arrival of President Trump and this will increase the importance of ensuring an amicable divorce with the United Kingdom. Britain remains a powerful economic and strategic great power and it would be strategically foolish of the major European powers to “punish” the UK in the context of an unpredictable Trump America.

Right-wing populist and nationalist political forces across Europe will also benefit from the legitimacy garnered from a Trump presidency. The prospect that Marine Le Pen of the National Front will win the French presidential elections in May 2017 will be increased by the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House.

Should the eurozone enter another major economic crisis or a major European state votes to leave the Euro and/or the EU, than President Trump will not attempt to prop up a disintegrating European project. Europe will be on its own.

The Middle East Cauldron

The big economic shift in the past decade has been the energy boom in North American oil which has significantly reduced America’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil imports. This gives a Trump presidency greater room for manoeuvre in the maelstrom of Middle Eastern geopolitics.

Donald Trump has confirmed that the destruction of ISIS will be his primary focus should he be elected president. I would expect that Trump will continue to develop on the tentative moves by Secretary of State John Kerry to work with the Russians in the war against the Islamic extremists. Trump may be prepared to take greater risks in upsetting traditional allies, like the Gulf States, in securing the destruction of ISIS. Trump will expect a military and financial contribution from the oil rich Saudi Arabia, UAE and other allies in the struggle against ISIS and resolving the international refugee crisis. A President Trump will likely threaten the withdrawal of the US security umbrella should the Gulf States not cooperate on eradicating ISIS,  assist with the refugee crisis or end the promotion of radical interpretations of Islam.

Trumps inflammatory call for the temporary ending of Muslim migration into America during the Republican primaries will not be forgotten by the Muslim world. The election of Trump will be seen by broad sections of the Muslim world as an attack on Islam itself. Trump will soften his rhetoric as president and reach out to the Muslim world, with a message of cooperation against the ideology of radical Islam, which is spreading throughout the region.

Even if the self styled “caliphate” is defeated by an American led coalition; the ideology will survive, and indeed will be enhanced by a Trump presidency. Radicalisation of young Muslims will continue to accelerate throughout the Muslim world, leading to more terrorist attacks in the coming years, as is already happening in Europe.

It is unlikely that Trump will actually revoke the Iranian deal but he will certainly put on ice the growing rapprochement with the Iranian regime. Beneficiaries of a Trump presidency will include Israel and Egypt, whose respective leaders have both had difficult relations with the Obama Administration.

On balance, apart from the energetic pursuit of the destruction of ISIS, it is likely that a President Trump will disengage from the Middle East cauldron.

Return of protectionism

One of the consistent themes of Trump, throughout the decades, is his distrust and opposition to free trade deals. In the Trumpian worldview, free trade deals disadvantage American economic interests, destroys the industrial base and reduces the standard of living of American workers. Although the Congressional opposition will be considerable, Trump will attempt to impose tariffs on Chinese imports, at some point during his presidency.

The looming economic recession, which appears likely to happen, next year, could act as a trigger for a radical change of direction on global economic policy. Public support for free trade has collapsed over the last decade and with the Bernie Sanders insurgency fuelled by hostility to NAFTA and the draft Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”), the Democrats may join forces in embracing protectionism.  Should Donald Trump successfully push through tariffs against Chinese imports, the impact on the globalised free trade liberal order will be profound. Trump may consider the short-term economic disruption a price worth paying for the long-term strategic goal of restoring America’s industrial base, encourage the on-shoring of American jobs and becoming a self-sufficient economic superpower.

Indeed, rather than abolishing NAFTA, Trump may instead promote a protectionist North America trade bloc, with Mexico and Canada benefiting from  preferential trade deals, as a sweetener, to joining such a trade bloc. The strategic vision behind such a withdrawal into North American protectionism will be the looming global oil crunch, which will bring into focus, the growing threat of resource scarcity by the end of this decade. America has the economic and strategic depth to successfully “go it alone” with its neighbors. Even if Trump fails to achieve this self-reliant vision of America in a post-neoliberal world order, the mere prospect of it, will accelerate the transition into the era of Scarcity Industrialism.

Overall, it remains to be seen how much of the above agenda a President Trump could successfully implement should he get elected. Trump will face ferocious institutional resistance from the Washington based military, diplomatic and civil service elites, as well as factions within Congress, to any of the potential changes listed in this article.

One thing is for certain, should Donald Trump get elected on 8 November 2016, only a fool would dismiss the prospects that the Donald will not be able to push through his agenda, once he occupies the White House.

The global implications of a Trump presidency

The Strange Death of Labour England

The Liberal Party during the 19th century was one of the dominant political forces in British politics, yet was crushed by titanic social forces, during the first half of the twentieth century. The author George Dangerfield wrote the famous book The Strange Death of Liberal England in 1935 which tried to explain how political liberalism was shattered by the impact of the First World War.

Are we now witnessing the death of the Labour Party after the political explosion of Brexit? It would certainly appear so. Under Tony Blair the Labour party had found a political winner who combined socially liberal “progressive” politics with a robust centre-right approach to the economy, crime and foreign affairs. The New Labour electoral coalition, of the traditional northern and Scottish Labour vote and the affluent middle classes of the south, repeatedly crushed the Conservative Party between 1997 and 2005.

The deeper force underpinning the success of New Labour was the long decade of economic growth, which allowed significant redistribution to the poor, without having to implement massive tax rises for the wealthy. The redistribution of public funds to traditional Labour strongholds, the huge expansion of the public sector and the implementation of modest social reforms like the minimum wage kept the electoral coalition together.

The former Labour Minister Liam Byrne famously left a message to his successor, that “there is no money”, when a Conservative led coalition came to power in 2010. The problem for the Labour Party is that without economic growth it is very difficult to maintain a left-wing agenda of rising public spending without eventually bankrupting the country. Ed Miliband, the successor to Gordon Brown in the Labour Party, never overcome this conundrum.

After a second electoral defeat in the May 2015 general election, Labour faced three strategic choices, move to the reforming centre-right, muddle through in the soggy “soft left” or move decisively to the populist hard left. The “blairite” faction, represented by Liz Kendall, articulated moving to the centre-right which critics called Tory-lite politics, but was overwhelmingly rejected by the Labour party membership.

Either Alan Burnham or Yvette Cooper, representing the continuation of the Brown-Miliband “soft left” approach to politics, were expected to win, on a platform of limited left-wing policies and a strong dose of anti-Tory rhetoric. To the shock of the Pundocracy, Jeremy Corbyn won a landslide victory with a hard left programme of nationalisation, abolishing the nuclear deterrent and the expansion of the state. The Westminster elite have dismissed the rise of Jeremy Corbyn as an irrational reaction by a deluded left-wing membership which is doomed to electoral suicide.

My perspective is that Corbyn’s rise is an eruption of a broader trend of populism which is transforming the Western world. The thinker Martin Jacques has written eloquently on why neoliberalism is dying, which includes part of the themes articulated in my own post, “Winter is coming”, on the coming era of Scarcity Industrialism. The globalised liberal order of free trade, open markets and abundant resources is coming to an end and something very different will replace it.

The Labour grassroots turned to Corbyn because, as Jacques notes, “Corbyn is not a product of the new times, he is a throwback to the late 70s and early 80s. That is both his strength and also his weakness. He is uncontaminated by the New Labour legacy because he has never accepted it. But nor, it would seem, does he understand the nature of the new era.” Corbyn’s brand of Bennite socialism is one alternative to the failing neo-liberal status quo and was the only alternative on offer to a desperate, frustrated and angry Labour party membership.

During the Brexit referendum debate, the Left, including the Labour Party, overwhelmingly backed the status quo Remain campaign. This was a major strategic error. If the Left is perceived by the general public to prop up a failing status quo establishment, which has failed the majority of the population, it is doomed. The Labour Party needs to develop a platform of policies which addresses the multitude of challenges facing Britain in the 21st century, principally, the Limits to Growth mega-trend.

Elements of Corbynism could have some relevance as we transition into the twilight era of a stagnating economy, rising protectionism and the breakdown of key international markets as resource scarcity increases.  Corbyn’s emphasis on a strong industrial strategy, the revival and expansion of the state and the proposal that central banks print billions to invest in national infrastructure, like renewable energy, are policies that could enter the political mainstream within the next ten years.

Yet one must not underestimate the huge challenges facing the Labour Party. The party membership, including the bulk of the parliamentary Labour party, are resistant to embracing migration controls which is a key issue for their traditional voting base. In an era of escalating migration flows around the world, the pressure from ordinary voters to close the borders will only intensify and the Labour Party is on the wrong side of this debate.

The populist right are gaining votes across Europe by harnessing the anger of the growing army of “losers” of globalization, the appeal to national identity and the legitimate concerns about the rise of radical Islam.  The Left appear to have little to say to these sections of the electorate.

If Corbyn, or even a post-Corbyn populist left, has any chance of regaining power, they will need to take seriously public concerns on the levels of immigration, the integration and terrorist risks posed by the growing Muslim populations of Europe and the failings of the current neoliberal economic model.

To summarise, there is an opportunity for the Left to embrace an economically populist platform which has the potential to appeal to electorates across the Western world. Polling in America showed that Bernie Sanders would have crushed Donald Trump in a landslide victory if he had won the Democratic nomination. Yet the chasm between the modern Left and broad layers of the population on immigration, national identity and security is deep and widening. At the moment, there are very few voices within the Left who appear to understand, or are even starting the process of addressing, these enormous challenges.

In 1935, decades after the Liberal Party had become a shadow of its former glory, an obituary was written on the death of political liberalism. There is a real possibility that a similar book, written within this generation, will be written about the political death of the Labour Party.

On a final note, I predicted in June that Jeremy Corbyn would narrowly win the Labour Party leadership election. I expected that his challenger, Owen Smith, would mount an effective and strong campaign based on his proposed reversal of Brexit, which would appeal to the Labour party membership. On the contrary, Owen Smith has made a number of serious gaffes, most notably, what appeared to be the advocating of direct negotiations with ISIS. At the recent Question Time special debate between Corbyn and Smith, the bulk of the audience laughed when this was mentioned. Owen Smith’s credibility has taken a severe knocking because of these self-induced blunders.

Due to the above, I have now amended my forecast prediction, to include the possibility of a landslide victory by Jeremy Corbyn against Owen Smith. Therefore, my updated forecast prediction is a Corbyn victory.*

*The victory by Corbyn includes the possibility of a narrow victory (50 – 59%) or a landslide victory (over 60% of the vote).

The Strange Death of Labour England

Update on the blog

All,

I hope you are enjoying reading my blog.

For those  who are new to the blog, I encourage you to become an email follower so that any updates are sent automatically to your inbox in the future.

I will be posting update posts on a weekly basis going forward, with a forthcoming article on the future of the Labour party, the global implications of a Trump presidency and coverage of the key US election debates starting at the end of this month.

Please keep checking the blog for updates and I encourage your comments and feedback.

Regards

James

Update on the blog

The French Rubicon

On 49 BC, the great Roman general Julius Caesar faced a choice, cross the river Rubicon and march on Rome or not. He chose to cross the Rubicon with the full knowledge that his action would provoke a civil war in the Roman world.

The French electorate face a similar moment in their country’s history on April and May 2017 when the two rounds of the presidential elections are held. The centre-left and centre-right political parties are deeply divided on how to overcome the multiple challenges facing the French state; a serious domestic Islamist terrorist insurgency, a stagnating economy with shocking levels of unemployment and the decline in the power and international influence of the nation in the EU and the world.

Nicholas Sarkozy, the divisive and unpopular former president, has formally declared his intention to run for the presidency again. Sarkozy has moved to the hard right with ultra-hawkish positions on how to deal with the rising jihadi threat. The Republican Party candidate has proposed the indefinite internment of known extremists, the shutting down of mosques and the ending of the EU rule of family unification for migrants who have settled in France.

Sarkozy enjoys the support of the right-wing faithful in the conservative opposition and has clearly gambled that a Trumpist campaign based on identity, security and the cultivation of a “strongman” image will secure victory in the Republican primaries race. Sarkozy has expressed Eurosceptic sympathies with a specific focus on restoring migration controls but is committed to the euro. Sarkozy’s rival, Alain Juppe, is a popular, technocratic and centrist establishment figure who is considered more likeable by the population according to opinion polls. Juppe, a former Prime Minister, belongs to a rapidly shrinking political centre in France but is perceived to be part of the ancien régime.

The outsider and anti-establishment candidate, the National Front leader Marine Le Pen, is expected to get to the second round of the presidential elections. The National Front (“NF”) was an openly fascistic party under the previous leader and father of Marine, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Marine Le Pen has expelled her anti-Semitic father from the party and moved the NF to the populist right-wing and nationalistic political ground. After the horrifying “summer of terror” attacks, Sarkozy and Le Pen exist on a similar hard-right political space when it comes to Islamism.

Le Pen has championed a French withdrawal from the euro and the EU, Frexit, as a key signature policy of the NF manifesto. The French populace have historically favored a strongly statist and protectionist approach to French industry and the NF have captured the bulk of the working class vote with their protectionist economic policies. Polls show the French public have become deeply disillusioned with the European project and only a narrow majority would vote to stay within the EU. 

I consider the presidential elections a critical juncture, not only for the French but for the rest of Europe, as the implications of a shock victory by Marine Le Pen will shake Europe to its foundations. For those readers who wish to read my forecasting prediction on the outcome of the French presidential elections, they will have to wait to the beginning of 2017. However, my indicative thoughts are that Sarkozy is in a strong position to win the Republican primaries in November on a full blooded promise of total war on jihadi extremism and become the next president of France.

Alternatively, Marine Le Pen could succeed in defeating her second round opponent by linking the core issue of security with the wider sovereignty questions which comes from being a member of the euro zone and of the EU. A NF campaign of “taking back control” from Brussels on industrial strategy, protectionism and border security could be a compelling cocktail for a frightened, angry and disillusioned French electorate. Marine Le Pen’s best chances of entering the Elysee palace is by connecting in the minds of the ordinary French voter that regaining sovereignty from Brussels is indispensable to successfully crushing the threat posed by militant Islam.

Much can happen between now and the presidential elections in spring 2017. Further jihadi terror attacks in Europe or the election of Donald Trump on 8 November 2016, both predicted by me at the beginning of the year, could strengthen the forces of the hard right. The French electorate may prefer the experienced ex-president Nicholas Sarkozy to the untested Marine Le Pen with a still toxic fascistic and anti-Semitic legacy.

My gut instinct is that the key voters who will swing the election are older French voters who are terrified of the future and are desperately looking for a leader who can save their country from a looming civil war. Should sufficient numbers of these voters turn to Marine le Pen than the self-styled Joan of Arc of France could narrowly defeat her opponent in the second round of elections.

The world awaits whether the French will cross their Rubicon next year.

The French Rubicon