Goodbye to all that. Now we know that Donald Trump would rip up the post-1945 world order, trash an “obsolete” NATO, lean toward a Japan with nukes rather than the “one-sided agreement” that leaves the United States responsible for Japanese defense, tell Saudi Arabia that it “wouldn’t be around for very long” without American protection, and generally make clear that “we cannot be the policeman of the world.”
So much for Pax Americana; it was a bad deal, you see, and in the Trump universe the deal is everything. American power and far-flung American garrisons may have underwritten global security and averted nuclear war for more than seven decades, but they cannot be sustained by the “poor country” the United States has become. Why? Because, he insists, the whole postwar setup is a scam.
That Trump could be the next U.S. president is no longer a fanciful notion. Americans don’t want business as usual; Trump is not business as usual. The world – already more combustible than at any time in recent decades – may be about to become a much more dangerous place.
Trump, in interviews with my colleagues Maggie Haberman and David Sanger, said: “We have been disrespected, mocked and ripped off for many, many years by people that were smarter, shrewder, tougher. We were the big bully, but we were not smartly led.” America was “systematically ripped off by everybody. From China to Japan to South Korea to the Middle East, many states in the Middle East, for instance protecting Saudi Arabia and not being properly reimbursed for every penny that we spend.”
Bottom line of Trump foreign policy: “We will not be ripped off anymore” because “we don’t have any money.” He would like to see the United States “really starting to go robust,” as it did around 1900.
A lot of what Trump said was just plain wrong. He declared that he was “all for Ukraine, I have friends that live in Ukraine,” but those friends don’t seem to have explained what’s going on. He is irked because countries like Germany “didn’t seem to be very much involved” when Russia got “very confrontational” (aka annexed Crimea and started a war in eastern Ukraine), and so the burden fell on the United States.
In fact, Germany has taken a central role in orchestrating sanctions against Russia and, unlike the United States, is at the table in the Minsk peace process for Ukraine. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that Trump dismisses Germany’s role in that he believes Europe’s most powerful nation by far is “being destroyed” by “tremendous crime” (presumably on the part of unmentioned Muslim refugees) and by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “naiveté or worse” (presumably in letting said Syrian refugees in). He also believes that the United States is “obsolete in cyber,” a view Iran would not share, and that “our country doesn’t have money” (it does have some).
But that Trump and facts are uneasy partners is already well known. What was not so apparent before these interviews was how radical a President Trump would be in dismantling the architecture of postwar stability – unless, of course, he changed his mind to demonstrate the unpredictability he prizes.
To say NATO is obsolete – a view that Moscow has been pressing since the end of the Cold War as a means to get the United States out of Europe – at a time when President Vladimir Putin is determined to assert Russian power is dangerous folly. Ask the Baltic States that have been spared Putin’s aggression only because they are now NATO members. NATO remains the pillar of the trans-Atlantic cooperation that forged a Europe whole and free from the ruins and divisions of 1945.
To countenance a nuclear-armed Japan at a time when China’s rapid rise and designs in the East China Sea have sharpened tensions between the two countries is also to play a high-risk game. The presence of the United States as an Asian power offsetting China’s rise and reassuring smaller nations in the hemisphere is a principal reason that rise has been peaceful.
As for the disintegration of Saudi Arabia, which Trump seems ready to accept if the Saudis don’t step up to the plate financially and militarily, it may well make Syria look like a playground.
Trump is right about one thing. The world of 2016 is not that of 1945 or 1990. The United States is relatively weaker, power is shifting, there are pressing domestic priorities. But his version of “America First” – which, interestingly, converges with the views of many on the left who are convinced that the United States should stop policing the world – looks like a recipe for cataclysm.
War in Estonia or the East China Sea could end up being a very bad deal indeed, a real rip-off for all humanity.