Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Why foreign policy will be Trump's downfall

Predicting Trump’s trajectory is hard, because the territory is uncharted. A rogue rocket has launched from Cape Canaveral with a nuclear warhead on board and we’re hoping that when it crashes and burns, it doesn’t take out downtown Orlando.

All the famous checks and balances built into the American political system? The ones designed to stop tyranny and to act as a firewall against the agenda of a power-hungry megalomaniac? They will be tested to the full by Donald J Trump, believe me.

Part of the problem is that no one – from the founding fathers onwards – could ever have predicted anyone quite like this man claiming power. The political establishment and the constitutional experts might have imagined a calculating crook or an ideological extremist assuming the presidency. But the pussy-grabbing, China-baiting, tweet-firing freakshow that is Trump? He’s just not in the instruction manual.

It’s beyond question that it will all end in tears.  The only issue is whose tears?  If the lacrimal flood is limited to Donald himself, we can all breathe a huge sigh of relief. But let’s not kid ourselves. This guy will cause a lot of collateral damage along the way.

My prediction, for what it’s worth, is that foreign policy and security will be Trump’s ultimate undoing.

It seems inevitable there will be moves to impeach him at some point, but the wheels grind slowly and the GOP will be largely supportive in what might laughably be described as Trump’s honeymoon. The President’s domestic policy will be offensive and retrograde, but in many respects this is where he is most in line with the agenda of House and Senate Republicans. They all love nothing better than taking away hard-earned workers’ rights, attacking women and restricting access to healthcare.

Trump is on much more problematic ground with his erratic personal behaviour on social media and his tendency to make foreign policy on the hoof. I foresee a crisis with a foreign power precipitated by his trigger-happy Twitter account or some inane (or perhaps insane) announcement he makes off the cuff in a press conference.

The Chinese leadership will be watching closely. The issue of Taiwan and their so-called ‘One China’ policy is a red line. So is their sphere of influence in the ocean territories disputed with Japan, South Korea and The Philippines.

The issue of Russia and kompromat and the lovefest with Vladimir Putin is not going to go away. There’s only one thing worse than seeing someone fall head over heels with the wrong guy. And that’s dealing with the aftermath when their relationship implodes.

While many of us are sickened by the closeness of the lovebirds right now, things could easily be turned on their head overnight. Why? Because Trump doesn’t have one inch of loyalty to anyone except himself. What he says on Tuesday, he happily contradicts on Friday. And by Monday, he’s forgotten he ever said it.

There is a lot of commentary about the fact that Trump seems hostile to the intelligence community and doesn’t like to be briefed. My hunch is that the spooks won’t share anything of substance with him anyway, even if he does start granting them an audience.

As the guy doesn’t read anything, I would just dress up some reports from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and tell him that it’s a briefing. Would he know any different? It would be a risky strategy, for sure, as ideally you’d want the President to be on top of world events. But this is not a normal situation and it would surely be even more risky to share detailed classified intelligence.

Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld referred to ‘known knowns’ – things we know we know. Then there were ‘known unknowns’ – the things we know we don’t know. But there was also his third, and rather scary, category of knowledge called the ‘unknown unknowns’. These are the things we don’t know we don’t know.

In every presidency, stuff will turn up that we can’t imagine yet.  ‘Events’, as British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan quaintly described them. How will Trump react? Will there be one 3am tweet too many?

In the UK, the ‘men in grey suits’ come to tell a Prime Minister it’s time to go. There’s not really any provision for the men in white coats.

The 25th Amendment of the US Constitution does, however, allow for a President to be declared unfit for office by the Vice-President and senior cabinet members. Star Trek aficionados will recognise this as the right of the Chief Medical Officer on board a Starfleet vessel to declare the Captain incapacitated.

If it happens, expect it to happen suddenly without warning. Because I fear it will only be invoked to prevent an international crisis of catastrophic proportions. And time will probably be of the essence.

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