Sat | Aug 8, 2020

Editorial | Trump’s corrosion demands urgency on foreign policy

Published:Wednesday | October 23, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Donald Trump’s thwarted attempt to host next year’s G-7 Summit at a hotel he owns, in violation of the constitutional ban on American presidents gaining incomes from foreign governments, or otherwise profiting from the office, was merely another act of abasement with implications far deeper than the statement it makes about Mr Trump’s absence of decency and moral rectitude.

For while Mr Trump grudgingly retreated, the fact that he even contemplated the move, and that it excited so relatively little outrage among Americans, marks it as a metaphor for America’s slippage as global hegemon, of which Jamaica should take note.

The United States, of course, remains the world’s most powerful country, with its largest economy and most sophisticated and technologically advanced military. US power, however, transcended military and economic might. The United States, more fundamentally, was an idea, grounded in the presumption of its moral leadership and firm commitment to democracy. Mr Trump’s presidency, of nearly three years, has challenged those assumptions.

His corruption apart, Donald Trump has purveyed a racist, xenophobic and white ethnocentric construct of the United States, while authoritarian instincts threatened the Jeffersonian ideals of democracy. But what ought to be more worrying for a small, weak country like Jamaica is the potentially toxic mix of Mr Trump’s impulsiveness and his disdain for the rules-based global order. He seems keen on demolishing the post-World War II architecture, without having a clue as to its replacement.

Indeed, Mr Trump’s impulsiveness and absence of policy coherence was on show this past fortnight when he announced the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, allowing Turkey to go on the offensive against America’s former, and long-standing, Kurdish allies in the fight against Islamic State (IS) in Syria’s civil war to create a buffer zone, deep into Syrian territory, between Syria and Turkey.

While this move facilitates Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objective of removing a Kurdish enclave on Turkey’s borders, making it more difficult for the Kurds inside Turkey, and those across the border in Syria, to collaborate in agitating for autonomous Kurdish territory, it raises questions about America’s loyalty to allies and its future authority in the Middle East.

America, in this analysis, has lost trust. Conventional wisdom is that Russia and Iran, who have backed the Assad regime in the Syrian war, are, in the geopolitics of the Middle East, the ultimate beneficiary of Mr Trump’s decision. His action may come to be deemed as a defining moment on the often meandering chessboard of the region’s politics.


This misadventure, if it is indeed that, coincides with other, ongoing, global realignments that threaten America’s dominance. Earlier this month, China’s communists marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of modern China with soaring self-confidence of its place in the world. It is not only the world’s second-largest economy, but is in a battle with the United States for global influence and technological leadership.

Moreover, Beijing’s investments in Jamaica and the Caribbean over the past decade have been critical to the development of this region’s infrastructure. The same is true in parts of Africa and Asia. Notably, too, China is creating alliances with what, under Vladimir Putin, is an increasingly resurgent Russia – a pact that perhaps suggest that the Cold War, rather than having been permanently ended, is being reconfigured and repurposed. People might have spoken too soon about the end of history.

Donald Trump, either in 15 months, or five years, will eventually leave the White House. The United States will seek to regain its moral axis. Yet, it won’t be easy for America to find even keel in the post-Trump era and for the world to again perceive of the United States the same way as before the Trump presidency. Moreover, the rise of China, and other potential power blocs, is too profound to be reversed.

Against this backdrop it is urgent, as we have urged before, that Jamaica begins to formulate a foreign policy suitable for the times. Prime Minister Andrew Holness should invite the country’s best thinkers and old foreign policy hands to begin to design this new architecture.