No matter how hard White House officials try, they cannot construct a coherent ‘Trump doctrine’ that would make sense amid the chaos that has afflicted US foreign policy in recent months.
However, this chaos is not entirely the making of President Donald Trump alone.
Since 1945, the United States has vied for total global leadership. The 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent disintegration of the Eastern Bloc, gave it complete global hegemony.
The US became the force that stabilized and destabilized any region in the world, as it saw fit – which always served the interests of the US and its allies.
Political opinions and ideological strands in the US, but also globally, were formulated around this reality. Often unwittingly, we are all pushed into one of two categories: pro- or anti-American.
For decades, many critical voices warned of an uncontested unipolar world. Conformists fought back against the ‘un-American’, and ‘unpatriotic’ few, who dared break rank.
In the late 1980’s, Francis Fukuyama declared ‘the end of history’, now that the US and its western allies managed to defeat communism. He prophesized the end of ‘sociocultural evolution’, where a new form of a single human government can be formed.
It appeared, however fleetingly, that all the obstacles before the American vision of total domination have been subdued. Thomas Friedman of the ‘New York Times’ imagined such a world in his bestselling book, ‘The World is Flat’.
He wrote, with the wisdom of a sage and the triumphalism of a victorious war general, “Communism was a great system for making people equally poor – in fact, there was no better system in the world for that than communism. Capitalism made people unequally rich.”
But history never ended. It just went through a new cycle of conflicts, problems and alliances of enemies and foes. Unchecked consumerism was hardly a triumph for the neoliberal order, but a defeat of a delicately balanced planet, where global warming emerged as the world’s greatest enemy. American military power could hardly wait to rearrange the Arab world, as once promised, by former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Since then, the so-called ‘New Middle East’, has become a horrifying nightmare that traversed many countries and destabilized the entire region.
Worse still, the US economy has crashed, taking down with it the global economy and reducing some of the smallest, most vulnerable countries into abject poverty.
The rise of Donald Trump to power is, in fact, an outcome of the chaotic years that preceded his advent.
By the end of his second term, former President Barack Obama spoke of his success in stabilizing the economy and creating more jobs in a process of swift recovery, contrary to real evidence.
A US Federal Reserve survey last year concluded that nearly half of all Americans “did not have enough money to cover a $400 emergency expense.”
Americans did not elect Trump simply because they are ‘racist’, as some have presumed, but because they are desperate.
He knew how to exploit the many woes of his people with ‘Making America Great Again’ type of mantras.
For most Americans, Friedman’s ‘unequally rich’ paradigm seemed like detached, intellectual nonsense.
Expectedly, the greatest backlash to Trump’s chaotic politics emanates from the liberal and neoliberal forces in politics and economy that had assiduously defended the failing American order for many years.
They continue to rebrand the failures of the past as either astounding success, or well-intentioned but unsuccessful endeavors to make the world a better place.
Read this self-delusional discourse in the Brookings Institute to understand the complete lack of introspection.
“No American president since 1945, whether Republican or Democrat, has broken so decisively with the American stewardship of the postwar liberal global order,” wrote Constanze Stelzenmüller recently, with reference to Trump’s policies towards Europe and the rest of the world.
She opines: “In the service of the higher good of world peace, even the victorious superpower was willing to be bound to universal rules—a concession that admitted the existence of a worldwide community of humanity based on shared values rather than the principle of ‘might makes right.'”
It is a view that is largely inconsistent with history. Immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US ‘might makes right’ became the new doctrine that was championed by every US administration.
In fact, Iraq was bombed by all US Presidents since George H. Bush in 1991.
Trump represents a strange amalgamation of American military power, business monopoly and media savviness. He seems smart enough to understand that his country requires a change of course, but neither has the will, the wisdom nor skills to guide it into any other direction.
After six months in the Oval Office, he is presiding over the same old power struggle between the neoconservative-type ideologues, who want to see more interventions to rearrange the world as they see fit, and the military brass, who want the US military to reign supreme, but on a steady and predicable course.
While Trump himself rejected the idea of regime change during his campaign for office, Politico reported on June 25 that his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, “appeared to endorse subverting the Iranian regime,” and the “philosophy of regime change.”
Meanwhile, the ideologues vs. the military brass battle, which had defined both terms of the George W. Bush administration, is back.
Foreign Policy described that ongoing fight in details in a revealing report on June 16.
Top White House officials, led by senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council, Ezra Cohen, want to expand the Syria war, taking the focus away from defeating ISIS to target American foes involved in that proxy war. Defense Secretary, James Mattis, wants to stay the course. The impulsive way in which Trump makes his decision, the pendulum could swing in any direction without warning or logic.
Contradictions in US foreign policy emerge almost daily.
US United Nations Ambassador, Nikki Haley, seems to be running a show of her own, independent of Trump’s administration. She recently declared that Muslim sites in Occupied East Jerusalem are part of “Israeli territory“, before stressing that she is ‘unclear of official US policy on the issue.’
While chaos and contradictions abound, Trump’s allies are simply unable to sum up the ‘Trump doctrine.’ A top administration official told the Time that it is a “combination of very good personal skills – one-on-one … defeating ISIS and … commitment to people that there are certain things that the United States isn’t going to put up with.”
While such ‘doctrine’ lacks any serious substance, previous doctrines are equally useless, for none offers a real vision that is predicated on achieving a multipolar world, which is based on mutual respect and adhering to an equitable frame of reference, such as international laws.
This chaos will continue to bode badly for the Arab world and Middle East region, in particular. Since Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq, Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ and the onset of the current turmoil, the region has been in flames.
Unable to offer a courageous diagnosis of the violence, the Trump administration is parroting the same old jingoism of defeating ‘Islamic terrorism.’
Lacking a vision for peace and unable to win the war, the US administration seems to have no plan, except inconsistent, self-contradictory policies – while blaming everyone else, but never once introspecting.
It turns out that the world is, indeed, not ‘flat’ at all and that history remains in motion, moving beyond the jurisdiction of a single country.
But until the US leadership – Trump’s or any other – realizes such a notion, the world, in general, and the Arab world, in particular, will continue to suffer the consequences wrought by imperial arrogance and impulsive politicians.