Now that my emotions have cooled a bit, it is time to really accept that Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. It is now time to shift focus to policy. What will the next President do? I am a student of international relations and that is where my focus will be. In this article I will focus on a few areas near and dear to my heart and will (due to a lack of policy specifics from the President-Elect) speculate what the future holds for these issues. Unfortunately, there will be more questions than answers.
Syria – An issue I have written much about, this is the area I am most concerned, and uncertain, about. The Assad Regime must go, that much is clear to me. But is it clear to Donald Trump? Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that his main, and indeed only, focus in Syria will be fighting ISIS and that he is willing to work with the Russians (and thus the Regime) to that end. But, some of the most effective forces currently fighting ISIS in the country are the Kurdish and Arab rebel groups, also currently fighting the Regime and the Russians. Some of these groups are already receiving American arms, others are fighting alongside troops from NATO-ally Turkey. Will President Trump continue to arm rebels fighting ISIS? Will he abandon them to work with the Russians and the Regime? Will he support Turkey’s operation in Syria, and if Turkish forces come under fire, what then? Is it possible he could make a deal with the Russians, ending US sanctions on Russia and withdrawing American opposition to Russia’s actions in the Ukraine in exchange for Russia cutting ties with the Regime? The most likely outcome is Trump supporting a status quo ante bellum in Syria, ending the dream of the Syrian Revolution and abandoning the people of Syria to the Regime.
Iran – The nuclear deal with Iran was a watershed moment in Iranian-American relations, but as much as it is discussed by American politicians and media outlets it is a far bigger deal in Iran. The nuclear deal represents a monumental victory for the Reformist movement in Iran. This victory allowed the Reformists to become the largest force in Iran’s Parliament. The lifting of sanctions and economic liberalization in Iran is slowly eroding the power of the Hardliners in the country, as the Revolutionary Guard’s share of the economy diminishes. While the US cannot alone scrap the deal, as it was an international agreement, it can withdraw from it. At the very least, the incoming US administration could simply replace the lifted sanctions with new ones. In short, there is much that Trump could do to damage the Iran nuclear deal. But doing so would only harm the growing Reformist movement in Iran, damaging prospects for democratization in the country.
China – I believe that the US needs to be much tougher when it comes to China, and at least economically, it seems Trump does as well. The Communist Party of China is a deeply authoritarian, tyrannical, and brutal organization that rules the country with an iron fist. A key component of the Party’s legitimacy is based on its economic success, which is, to a large degree, based on falsified data and currency manipulation. The Party’s checkbook diplomacy is a potent tool used to intimidate rivals and buy tacit approval of its actions. Standing up to China is something the US needs to do, but it is not something that can be done through economic means alone. Make no mistake, the US is entering a Second Cold War with China with grave implications for the world. This war will be fought militarily as well as economically, and Trump’s seeming willingness to abandon American allies in the region allows the government of China to gain an early advantage. Trump’s threat to withdraw support from Japan and South Korea, among others, seriously damages the position of democratic powers in the region. This allows China to keep itself protected while bending the region to its will. I hope President Trump is a bit more firm about maintaining an American military presence in Asia, and supporting our democratic allies, than candidate Trump was.
Lots of questions, few answers. I hope in the next few weeks the President-Elect clarifies his stance on these issues so important to me. Be sure that I will be listening.