Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle Eastern History at University of California.
Hinting at presidential assassinations, asking Russians to hack the United States government and picking fights with “gold star” parents were certainly not the best ways for Donald Trump to build trust in his presidential brand.
But if it is becoming thankfully clear to the American public that Trump the candidate has no business possessing even a shred of political power, Trump the political provocateur is forcing us to confront some very inconvenient truths about the hypocrisies underlying US foreign policy, and could play a valuable role in upending an outdated and even absurd foreign policy status quo.
In a recent piece on the Foreign Policy website, Stephen Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s John F Kennedy School of Governement, argued that Trump’s focus on advancing US interests, stopping free-riding by other countries, and scepticism of nation-building efforts could have encouraged a much-needed foreign policy debate about the scope and limits of American power.
Speaking the truth
Directly related to these three arguments are Trumps criticisms of NATO, at the heart of which is his argument that the US shouldn’t continue to offer unqualified pledges to defend allies who aren’t “paying their fair share” to the NATO budget. He went even further, questioning the alliance’s continued raison d’etre.
The idea of the US not meeting its treaty obligations to the alliance sparked almost as much outrage as – and in policy circles far more than – Trump’s feud with the Khan family.
In response, President Barack Obama during his Democratic National Convention speech declared that “America’s promises do not come with a price tag. We meet our commitments”.
Frontline NATO allies such as Poland and the Baltic states would certainly suffer if the US withdrew its commitment to defend them from a Russian attack.
But this doesn’t change the reality that the US has been subsidising European NATO allies for decades even though the Cold War strategic logic surrounding a zero-sum contest with an expansionist Soviet Union no longer exists.
|The truth is, Trump is doing the US and the world a service by holding a giant mirror up to our collective soul, forcing us to confront the ugliness, irrationalities and hypocrisies underlying so many of the policies we think are sensible, or at least inevitable.|
Moreover, the alliance’s increasingly offensive posture vis-a-vis Russia, which helps justify the US’ continuing massively disproportionate military spending, is considered by analysts a central reason for Russia’s own increasingly bellicose actions.
Trump’s comments on Crimea, Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the US-Russian relations are also far closer to the truth than many would like to admit.
Trump’s claim to George Stephanopoulos that Russia “is not going to go into Ukraine” is obviously mistaken, given the invasion and annexation of Crimea.
His willingness to consider recognising Russia’s annexation of Crimea generated even more condemnation. But the reality is that the US and its allies have already recognised Russia’s fait accompli in all but name.
Not only that, the US and other powers have a sordid history of acquiescing to conquest and effective annexation of territory, from Morocco to Israel. All Trump has done is say out loud what everyone already knows.
Who made the US a mess?
Similarly, we can criticise Trump’s bromance with Putin, given the latter’s brutal and authoritarian policies towards his own people and support for the Bashar al-Assad regime.
But Putin’s actions are little different from those of a host of Western allies and client states, from Honduras to Turkey, Saudi Arabia to Uzbekistan, Egypt to much of Africa.
|A protester in an outfit resembling a uniform of the Ku Klux Klan stands outside the site of a rally by Trump on February 8 [EPA]|
The same can be said about Trump’s seeming praise for Libya’s former President Muammar Gaddafi and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein – men who were “our sons of bitches”, a phrase that was first used allegedly by Franklin D Roosevelt to describe Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza – before they had outlived their usefulness and were disposed of in highly profitable but strategically disastrous wars.
Simply put, if the mandarins guarding the gates of US foreign policy don’t like Trump cosying up to Putin, then the whole edifice of US “realpolitik” needs to be done away with, in favour of a set of principles that actually supports human rights and democracy everywhere.
In that regard, it is worth pointing out that, however ugly Trump’s rhetoric, it is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton whose hands are stained with blood, not his.
In that sense, Trump’s response to the warning from 50 senior Republican-appointed diplomats that he would be the “most reckless” president in history – “these are the people that have made the US a mess” – is hard to dispute.
Similarly, while his labelling of Obama as a “most valuable player” of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) – never mind its creator – are classic Trump hyperbole, it is undeniable that the president’s drone policies, never mind massive arms sales to and support for Israel, Saudi Arabia and so many other brutal and oppressive regimes, significantly help the terror group’s recruiting efforts.
Making America great again
Perhaps the most panic-inducing report comes from CNBC host Joe Scarborough, who revealed that Trump repeatedly asked at least one foreign policy expert brought in to advise him why the US can’t use nuclear weapons since it’s gone to all the trouble to build them.
This might sound like a preposterous question, until we realise that the US is set tospend upwards of $1 trillion over the next 30 years – that’s $1,000,000,000,000 – to “modernise” its nuclear weapons programme.
This bit of budgetary insanity – which could literally lift most of the world’s poor out of poverty – is being proposed not by Republicans, but by the Obama administration (PDF). Let’s get real: Do we think the US spends a trillion dollars on a weapons system it has no plans or scenarios to use?
The truth is, Trump is doing the US and the world a service by holding a giant mirror up to our collective soul, forcing us to confront the ugliness, irrationalities and hypocrisies underlying so many of the policies we think are sensible, or at least inevitable.
We don’t have to vote for Trump or even like him to appreciate the importance of the political, economic and strategic realities exposed by the US’ greatest reality TV star.
If we can keep that mirror raised after he returns to The Apprentice, Trump will indeed have made America a better country than it was before he stormed the political arena.
Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle Eastern History at University of California, Irvine, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lund University.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Horndiplomat editorial policy.
Source: Al Jazeera