When asked to comment on Russia’s position in the Second World War, years prior to the commencement of Operation Barbarossa, Winston Churchill, replied, “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest”.
Increasingly, this can be said of Donald Trump. With every pundit in the world trying to guess, second-guess and analyse Trump’s next move, such endeavours remind one of gazing at a chess board, trying to anticipate the move of a player who isn’t there.
It is difficult to say with any certainty where this all might end up. By contrast,Obama’s foreign policy went from saying one thing and doing another in his very early months, to a presidency that said all the wrong things and then did them.
It didn’t take long to predict what Obama’s next move was. Just imagine the worst case scenario combined with sophomoric rhetoric about Russia and Assad being the worst thing since un-sliced bread and PRESTO, you’ve got your own Obama State Department memo.
By contrast Donald Trump is someone who says increasingly little on foreign policy and apparently does even less.
But then events happen like the escalation of bombings in Yemen and the US Marine build-up in Syria. It leaves one wondering just what the hell is going on. Through all of this, Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and to a lesser but still notable extent, James Mad Dog Mattis at the Pentagon, have all the presence of a black cat in a black room.
With that in mind here are the possibilities of what might be going on
1. A Promise Kept
During the campaign and even after winning the election, Trump lamented the lack of surprise in Obama’s Middle East strategy. Trump pledged to develop a full plan to ‘knock the hell out of ISIS’ and he further promised to keep this plan a secret. The movement of US troops into Kuwait and illegal presence of new US Marines in Syria, may be an indication of such a plan in action.
It can be said with some measure of certainty that under Trump, America has quietly stopped arming Salifist jihadists and has concentrated their efforts on the Kurdish forces. Whether this is part of a grand plan or not is still a surprise, but perhaps that is Trump’s goal?
2. A Hostage To Misfortune
While the surprise ISIS policy may still be waiting to pop up, there also remains the possibility that Trump is either unable or unwilling to execute his stated foreign policy goals. Here are some things he promised to do, followed by a remark on whether he has done them or not.
–Restore good relations with Russia (NOT DONE)
–Cooperate with Russia against ISIS (NOT DONE)
–Cease the Assad must go rhetoric (kind of, but he’s still invaded Syria illegally..just like Obama did with proxies and special advisers)
–Take a tough line on Iran (DONE, but with a measure of blatant amateurishness, even by the standards of his predecessors)
–Be a steadfast ally of Israel (DONE)
–Challenge NATO members to pay up (NOT DONE, but too be fair, it is still very early days for such a thing).
With all this in mind, it may be that the internal struggles Trump is facing in Congress, the mainstream media and members of his own administration, have tied his hands in foreign policy. Under this scenario, the delays in Trump’s ability to achieve something substantial may be temporary. If Trump needs to do a slow purge of Washington, it may take years before a cohesive foreign policy, mirroring his campaign promises, is able to solidify. If not, this hypothesis would lead to permanent foreign policy attrition.
3. Miscommunication In Paradise
While Donald Trump may prefer the proverbial Jimmy Buffett ‘cheese burger in paradise’, he may be finding that ruling the world is not as easy as the power suggests.
Trump’s Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley continues to read from Samantha Power’s script. Her latest unfounded and confounding remark is that “We can never trust Russia”. It seems every time Trump emerges on Twitter to castigate the Russophobes in Washington as ‘losers’ who cannot accept defeat, one of his own appointees comes out with a ludicrous Russophobic statement. This of course came after the US refused to condemn the recent bombings in Damascus as terrorist attacks. This is frankly the equivalent of refusing to acknowledge that China is an economic superpower.
During the early days of the confirmation process of his appointees, Trump said that he is exercising a free speech policy among his cabinet in which each man and woman can publicly state their views even if they are views he disagrees with. He went on to assure the public that the buck stops with him.
This kind of policy is admirable in a way, but at some point, Trump ought to realise that he is running a government and not a debating club. With his sworn enemies united against him, Trump ought to tighten his grip on those who are supposed to be articulating his official policies.
4. Business As Usual
Between Trump’s positive meeting with the Saudi Defence Minister, threats to Iran, US troops illegally invading a secular Arab country and poor relations with Russia, maybe Trump was never who he claimed. Maybe the whole thing was calculated contrarianism during a difficult campaign.
I personally find that hard to believe, as foreign policy issues are never big winners or losers during US elections. Going after Hillary Clinton’s identity politics/sectarian campaign would have been more than enough. He would have even got less flack from the anti-Russian Democrats had he gone along hating Russia and sticking to the issues most voters are exorcised about, such as whether or not someone in possession of a penis can enter a female lavatory.
Trump has stuck his neck out calming that he wanted a new foreign policy, including in his recent address to Congress. The whole thing could have been a hoax to win the support of people like me. But I refuse to flatter myself. I think the first three options are more likely.
When all is said and done, these are mere possibilities. Trump’s foreign policy remains a Churchillian enigma. Maybe Trump is a Russian agent after all.