Tag Archives: US alliance

Australia should assume Trump won’t step back from his campaign commitments

The Conversation

John Hewson, Australian National University

World leaders have responded, variously, to the shock victory of Donald Trump in the US Presidential Election. Few took the opportunity as well as Germany’s Angela Merkel to specify their “terms of engagement” with the new President elect.

Merkel said:

“Germany and America are bound by their values: democracy, freedom, respect for the law, and the dignity of human beings, independent of their origin, their colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political position.”

She added:

“On the basis of these values I offer the future President of the US, Donald Trump, close cooperation.”

I am sure that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, too, would claim to have made similar comments. He too would have gained “assurances” as to Trump’s attitude to our alliance, and to our region. But probably not as succinctly, and with such clear intent as Merkel.

Understandably, there is considerable global confusion, and some concern, as to just how Trump will govern. And how well. There are significant checks and balances in the US political system when it comes to the exercise of power, especially relative to the Congress, in relation to domestic policies. But the President’s role as Commander-in-Chief is much less constrained.

Just which of the myriad of “promises and commitments” will he stick with, and which will he jettison? Will he actually build “the wall,” resort to tariff protection, tear up trade deals, ban Muslim and other immigrants, dramatically cut taxes, build all those roads, bridges and other infrastructure, step back from global defence, security and climate engagements, and a veritable host of others?
Some believe now that he has won, he will step back from much of this. However, I think this view misses the very point of his victory.

He ran a consistent and focused “anti-establishment” campaign – broadly, anti-globalisation, anti-freer trade, anti-immigration, and anti-Washington. His voters see him as a “game changer”. They expect him to deliver. I believe he will do his utmost to do so.

It has been characteristic of successive, previous “Establishment Presidents” to step back from most of their campaign commitments. To meet the expectations of his constituency Trump can’t, and won’t, do this, to the maximum extent.

Not surprisingly, he would initially offer “soothing assurances” to the likes of Turnbull, just as he made “soothing and healing” utterances in his acceptance speech. These included “governing for all Americans,” “unifying America,” reiterating the promises of new infrastructure, new businesses and new jobs.

His big wins were in the mid-West, manufacturing, rust belt, states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and in small-town, regional and rural America. They want jobs, and market “protection,” and don’t want migrants, or to have to live with the dictations of minorities, and the intrusions of Washington, dominated by powerful vested interests.

So, expect tariffs on China (probably after asserting currency manipulation) and on other “trade predators”, including Mexico. The Mexicans, and financial markets, obviously believe this given the almost immediate and historically significant collapse of the Peso. The real unknown is how such countries will respond, and in what form, and with what intensity, and just where such a process would end.

Similarly, he can be expected to renegotiate, if not tear up, some existing trade deals, especially NAFTA, and not to sign any new ones, including the TPP. He can also be expected to restrict immigration, and to chase those who have arrived illegally. He can be expected to backtrack on climate change, which he described as a “hoax”.

He may well treat Congress with contempt, at least initially. He owes very few of them, very little. Indeed, he may be wise to hit the Congressional ground running, by challenging them, as an early priority, to pass a bundle of legislation consistent with his anti-establishment platform.

However, I doubt his fiscal economic agenda, as much as we can ascertain it, is deliverable. With a still significant budget deficit and debt overhang, he will have very limited capacity to fund his promised infrastructure programs, large tax cuts, and increased defence expenditure, even with significant cuts to large expenditure areas such as health.

However, to the extent Trump is able to implement his trade and economic strategies they will be disruptive to global trade, and probably global growth, and inflationary, in time. This would probably lead to higher interest rates and a higher US dollar. It will be an important question whether any boost to US growth is sustainable.

The essence of Trump’s anti-establishment program is very nationalistic and isolationist. His constituency has a very clear idea of what they expect to make “America Great” again.

Much of this could be very bad news for Australia, with far reaching national and regional consequences. We will need a very clear sense, and electoral sign off, as to what is in our national interests. It will not be good enough to rest on our laurels, and to just keep citing the importance and strength of our US alliance, in the vain hope that somehow we will be treated differently, that we will be “special”.

Indeed, we will need to earn the relationship moving forward. We will need to be proactive, and may need to be prepared to renegotiate a new “US alliance”. We would be wise to begin this process against the background of rapidly developing our alliances with key Asian neighbours, especially Japan and South Korea.

The ConversationJohn Hewson, Professor and Chair, Tax and Transfer Policy Institute, Crawford School, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Trump the demagogue looks set to rule

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

As political earthquakes go, they don’t get much more seismic or unexpected. All of the pointy-heads who have been assuring us for weeks that Trump couldn’t possibly win have been proved spectacularly wrong once again – just as they were with Brexit.

That’s the problem with democracies: the punters don’t always do what they’re supposed to do. We may have to live with the consequences of this decision for the next four years – always supposing President Trump doesn’t start World War 3 or suspend the “corrupt” democratic process in the United States in the interest of stability and national security, of course.

That’s an attempt at gallows humour – I think. The reality is though, that nothing can actually be ruled out from a man who is entirely unpredictable, and a long way from the sort of “rational actor” we like to think make the decisions that shape international politics.

This might be a problem in any country. We have become accustomed to Western political pundits making condescending remarks about the rise of populist strong men leaders in places like Russia, Turkey, the Philippines and – most consequentially – China. But when the most powerful country in the world elects a racist, misogynist, bully with little understanding of or interest in complex domestic or foreign policies, we’re all affected.

Part of the complacency about Trump flows from the fact that so many believe that “we” are far too sophisticated and steeped in democratic traditions for a Putinesque demagogue to emerge in the heartlands of liberal democracy. But the tough guys are back with a vengeance, and America – and the world – may have to deal with their very own proto-fascist.

Interestingly, I’ve just done an informal poll of Russian students in Vladivostok, where I’m currently teaching, and the majority welcome a Trump win. They don’t trust Clinton and tend to judge outcomes from a narrowly instrumental nationalist perspective. Such attitudes may become increasingly prevalent.

Indeed, the idea that the United States will any longer provide the bedrock of a stable, rules based international order of a sort that policymakers in this country endlessly invoke is no longer feasible. On the contrary, Trump is likely – by intent or neglect – to unleash a diplomatic wrecking ball that could plunge us back into the sort of brutal great power politics that characterised earlier periods of history.

Critics of early incarnations of US foreign policy may have to eat their words, too, as we find out what a world without a comparatively benign form of American hegemony actually looks like. For all its undoubted problems, mistakes and self interest, the US has often been a force for stability – the nightmares of Iraq and the Middle East notwithstanding.

We may also be about to find out what a less cerebral, cautious American president than the much-criticised Barack Obama looks like. The promise to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS gives a clue. Acting in tandem with Putin – a figure he admires and clearly emulates – they might reduce the rest of Syria and much else to rubble.

Alarmist nonsense? I certainly hope so. But who is going to stand up for human rights, democracy, or international cooperation in pursuit of some progressive goal? In the sort of world we may be about to enter, the simple reality is that there is no country with either the military capability or – more importantly – the political will to constrain the unprincipled, reckless use of force on America’s part.

All of this only touches the surface of the horrors a Trump presidency could unleash. It is not only Mexicans, Muslims, and minorities of one sort or another that will be anxious. The perennially skittish financial markets will no doubt have a collective seizure, revealing problems that a relatively orderly approach to economic management in the US have managed to conceal, if not correct, since the global financial crisis.

Let’s not forget that the global financial crisis was made in America, and Obama did a pretty good job of staving off the next Great Depression. Not only would Trump blame foreigners generally and China in particular for American problems, but he would also probably unleash an old-fashioned 1930s style self destructive trade war in the process.

Speaking of the 1930s, that generation of strong men didn’t work out too well either, if I recall. At least the American president of the time didn’t actually contribute to the literal and metaphorical carnage. Trump is no FDR. On the contrary, his rise, rhetoric and rationale look more reminiscent of Europe’s interwar fascists.

Admirers of the US, among whose number I count myself, may hope that political institutions and culture will have an ameliorative impact on President Trump. Perhaps they would on a normal politician, even in these highly partisan, politically poisonous times. But not Trump, I fear.

He is clearly impervious to criticism and – more worryingly – incapable of accepting advice. We know little about his advisers except that they are little known. Perhaps the Republican establishment will rein him in. But given that they, too, have also been rejected by millions of Americans and actually allowed Trump to emerge in the first place, don’t hold you breath.

What does all this mean for Australia? Nothing good, I suspect. At the very least we need to have a long overdue debate about our relationship with our most important security partner. But don’t hold your breath about that either.

Whatever happens over the next four years it won’t be boring. Let’s just hope we get through it in one piece.

The ConversationMark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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