What will President Trump mean for foreign policy?

On 20th January 2017, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States of America. It is expected that his Presidency will mark something of a departure from the policies of his predecessor, both domestic and foreign. The latter will change the world as we know it, and so it will be the focus of this article.

We’ll start with the Middle East. Trump has pledged to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and he is unconcerned with settlement building. This is a remarkable boost for the ascendant Israeli right; as Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett put it, the two-state solution is dead. Israeli-American relations will improve markedly, and Israel’s continued, unified existence is assured for the near future. The Egyptian regime will be shored up as well. Unlike his predecessor, Trump supports Sisi wholeheartedly – having opined that it was wrong to overthrow Mubarak in the first place – and sympathises with his crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. With American support, Sisi is going nowhere.

North of Israel, Assad will win the Syrian civil war. Trump has shown no great support for the Syrian rebel cause, and without a supportive US President the rebellion is lost. True, the fighting may last many years more, and true, Assad will rule over a broken realm of dust and ash, but he will rule over it. Pressure on ISIS will remain on increase, speeding their collapse. Whether Iraq can come together after ISIS is defeated, or Shia sectarianism ensures the jihadi hydra rises again, is another matter. Also uncertain is the fate of the Kurds; Trump may be unconventional enough to support their cause, and many of his advisors are sympathetic to it, but that may not be enough to counter Turkish lobbying.

Travelling further eastwards, it is plausible the Iran deal will be cancelled, given Trump pledged to do so. What he will do about Iran after cancelling the deal is unknown, though sanctions may be the word of the day, and it seems likely the Ayatollahs will have a hard four years leading the country Trump has called the most dangerous in the world. By his estimation, the second most dangerous is Iran’s neighbour Pakistan. Combined with his positive view of India – illustrated by lavish praise for the record of Narendra Modi – this turns America’s South Asia policy on its head; India will be drawn closer, and Pakistan, in all likelihood, will drift into the outer darkness.

One of the various reasons Trump will be improving relations with New Delhi is countering the economic powerhouse north of it: China. Though the Chinese have been quick to reach out to Trump, his promises to punish them for their currency manipulation and dumping habits mean a trade war is on the cards, although the Chinese are canny enough that they may adjust their policies so as to avoid such an eventuality.

While TPP will probably be shredded, individual deals with Australia and New Zealand seem likely; Trump has indicated an openness to trade with similarly developed countries, and Australia in particular has been quick to court him. His silence on Latin America leaves something of a mystery, though his loudly stated commitment to the special relationship should tell us something about the fate of the Falklands. With Mexico, relations promise to be somewhat strained, although to his credit the Mexican president has been quick to court Donald. Whether or to what degree Mexico funds the wall and the big beautiful door that will apparently feature on said wall is unknown. Meanwhile the Canadian government has said it is open to renegotiating elements NAFTA with Donald Trump.

Speaking of negotiations, Trump’s victory will likely mean all those for TTIP were for naught, and in those for Brexit, Britain has a stronger hand. A President looking to aid, rather than bury, Brexit; who has pledged to put Britain at the front of the queue for a trade deal; and who looks to be rather more icy with Brussels, Paris and Berlin, will raise confidence in the UK, undermine that of the EU and improve the prospects of a clean, mutually beneficial Brexit. Indeed, the pound has already rocketed in response to Trump’s election.

Relations with continental Europe will be worse, although Trump’s insistence that NATO members pay into their defence more may well spook Germany, France and others into a military renaissance. Moreover, the spate of European elections over the next year could change the picture dramatically; Hofer, Le Pen and Wilders would likely get along famously with Trump and their respective victories have never looked so likely. Even in Berlin the tide could turn: the CDU stands to be devastated in the 2017 elections, and it is unlikely to let Merkel continue after that. As the mood of the party changes, with many amenable to a coalition with the surging AfD, Trump may soon find a far more amenable face in Berlin.

Finally, Russia. Previous presidents have set about containing Russia in various ways, and Trump shows little interest in such. It seems likely that he’ll allow Russia to reshape the Middle East in a fashion more to its liking, and is unlikely to escalate American intervention in Ukraine, although it remains unlikely to annex the Donbas region on account of economic weakness. If Trump relaxes sanctions, of course, that may change. If fears of Russian attacks on the Baltic States are realised, though, it remains probable that NATO, including an America whose congress would pressure Trump like little seen before, will respond proportionately.

Presuming Trump does indeed act as he claimed he would, then, the new President will bring forth this new world. It’s an exciting time to be alive.


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