By Prabasi Nepali
President Donald Trump’s first “National Security Strategy” 55-page report could have been written by any of his predecessors. It emphasizes all the great qualities which have been expected not only by its citizens, but also by friends and allies – the primacy of US leadership in world affairs, a strong defence of self and allies, a vibrant economy and core democratic values. Unfortunately, in the nearly one year of his presidency, Trump and his administration has turned virtually everything — whether domestic or foreign policy – head over heals, and it is extremely difficult to make sense – “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” (Winston Churchill), even for pundits.
On paper, the so-called ‘National Security Strategy’ seems to reflect mainstream American thinking, but everything that Trump and his administration have said and done completely contradicts it. It seems that Trump has only attempted to pay lip service to current law and practice since the annual strategy report was mandated by US Congress in 1986 to provide clarity about the current administration’s policy priorities and its plans to undertake them. However, Trump’s first ‘strategy paper’ is incompatible with the haphazard manner in which Trump has been directing national security policy that it can only confound all and sundry, whether ordinary citizens or experts, whether at home or abroad. Flabbergasted by Trump’s Twitter posts and policies, many had a lingering suspicion that he was soft in the head (his own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson called him a ‘moron’ privately). They will now feel to have been correct in their assessment. And the strategy document will turn out to be nothing more and nothing less than a damp squib.
The strategy document highlighted the urgent necessity to “integrate every dimension of our national strength and we must compete with every instrument of our national power.” All very well and good and a legitimate objective of national foreign policy, were it not so that Trump and his secretary of state were doing all in their power to curtail the very functioning of the State Department and its core diplomatic tasks. There have been budget cuts of more than 30 percent, senior diplomats have been forced out, key assignments have not been filled, including heads of diplomatic missions, and new and aspiring diplomats have not been hired. It is as if Trump & Tillerson expect American diplomacy to function in a vacuum.
The paper is full of commitments to basic American principles like the rule of law, equal rights and freedom of religion and the press – all held up as a “lasting force for good in the world” – but all under attack in various guises incessantly by Trump and his subordinates. He has denigrated federal judges, Muslims, the independent media and the work of the special prosecutor, Robert Mueller.
Trump also underscores – in the strategic paper at least – the significance of allies, partners and leading international/multinational organizations to global security. But on a daily basis, in words and deeds he belittles their contribution and authority in international affairs, and instead gloats of America’s primacy, reducing other nations and institutions to secondary status. He ceaselessly boasts of his “America First” policy and expects other nations to bow down to his self-aggrandizement and bombast. His grand policy has already cost America world-wide support and also isolated it in many vital areas, including trade and climate change. The US is increasingly regarded as a superpower in decline. Little does Trump realize that he is perceived as the proverbial ‘Emperor in his ‘new’ clothes’.
That the world does not take Trump and his administration very seriously came to the fore very dramatically last week Monday in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) vote in the resolution demanding that the US overturn its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there from Tel Aviv. Although the US used its veto power to stymie the measure, it was outclassed by the 14 other UNSC members (including the other four permanent members also with veto power) which voted in favour. Last week Thursday, however, the rejection and isolation of Trump was complete after the General Assembly, where no country has a veto, voted 128 to 9 with 35 abstentions (the remaining delegates of the total of 193 member states were absent!) to approve a similar resolution. And this in spite of stern warnings from Trump and his UN ambassador Nikki Haley that there would be reprisals ( cutting off economic, humanitarian and military funding) for countries that supported the motion. A senior diplomat from a Muslim country reacted to this succinctly: “States resort to such blatant bullying only when they know they do not have a moral or legal argument to convince others.
Trump’s foreign policy strategy was thus a farce and lay in tatters. His words and deeds did not honour the letter and spirit of the document, no doubt formulated by well-meaning experts. His “America First” rallying cry has now morphed into “America Alone” to the very detriment of his other slogan “Make America Great Again” resulting in a great super-power sliding into decline. Trump revels in denigrating rivals and opponents, e.g. calling the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un the “Little Rocket Man” – the very person who has succeeded against great odds in threatening the powerful United States in its very existence! Kim has paid Trump in kind, and ‘the man with the Big Mouth and Small Hands’ has nothing to offer his countrywomen (-men) in assurance. In a lengthy editorial, the “New York Times” makes mincemeat of Trump’s foreign policy that is ‘on paper only’ and comes to the conclusion that even in the cut-throat competitive world that Trump visualizes, “keeping America safe is not a game, a zero-sum calculus or something with a definable end. It is an arduous process requiring global cooperation, diplomatic skill and attentiveness, not constant saber-rattling and braggadocio.”
The most scathing critique of Trump’s National Security Strategy was documented by Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser from 2013 to 2017 and a former US ambassador to the UN. She is of the opinion that Trump has abandoned America’s ideals. He has relinquished the nation’s moral authority in these difficult times weakening the US and emboldening rivals (China and Russia). And he has made a mockery of the very idea of ‘America First’.