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.