US going rogue without a strategy
“Going rogue,” as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary states, can be defined as “an elephant or other large wild animal driven away or living apart from the herd and having savage or destructive tendencies.”
It is hard to find a more apt definition of US foreign policy under President Donald Trump.
Implicit in the concept of “going rogue” is the lack of a well thought out and goal-directed strategy. Rampaging elephants follow no plan and have no end result in sight.
Having a strategy does not, in and of itself, guarantee success: The neo-cons who dominated the administration of President George W. Bush had a clearly defined strategy — to export Jeffersonian-style democracy at the point of a gun, thereby making the Middle East safe for the United States (and Israel).
It was a foolish and misguided strategy but it was a strategy. Those who opposed it knew what they were opposed to and how to argue against it.
The current administration, however, has no strategy. “Make America Great Again” is not a strategy, it is an aspiration. Neither is “Winning” a strategy. It is a desired outcome of competitive interactions.
Having no strategy is not necessarily a bad thing, assuming you are not doing anything. The Trump administration, however, is doing lots of things, lots of dangerous and disruptive things, lots of contradictory things. Doing such things without a strategy is the very essence of “going rogue.”
Consider US policy towards the Middle East. In nine months in office, Trump or his subordinates have:
— Disavowed long-standing US commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while simultaneously declaring that the conflict should be easy to resolve;
— Twice-certified Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement and then refused to certify and asked a divided US Congress to do something about it, all the while tacitly cooperating with Iranian forces in the fight against the Islamic State;
— Opposed the Iraqi Kurdish referendum but refused to mediate after the vote provoked a military response from Baghdad;
— Fired cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase after seeing a television news report with video images upsetting to the president but then moved out of the way as Damascus solidified its control over crucial regions of the country;
— Supported Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in their crackdown against Qatar, while simultaneously praising Qatar for its regional role; and
— Proposed an 85% reduction in US assistance to Tunisia, the one “Arab spring” success story.
There are clear patterns in Trump’s policy chaos: Undoing as much as possible of Barack Obama’s policies, avoiding a serious commitment of US military forces, keeping enemies off-balance and favouring any foreign leader who massages Trump’s ego.
Patterns in policy do not make a strategy, however, and I challenge anyone to find a strategy buried somewhere inside Trump’s policies. These muddled and contradictory policies do not even help achieve the aspiration of “Make America Great Again.”
Neither do they achieve the aspiration of many US enemies: To “Make America Irrelevant.” The United States remains highly relevant, to the Middle East and the rest of the world. It is this relevance that makes Trump’s policies dangerous.
No offence to the lovely little country of Uruguay but if Montevideo were pursuing a rogue and strategy-less foreign policy no one would care. No one would even notice. Uruguay is a mouse, not an elephant. A rampaging mouse is not dangerous; a rampaging elephant can do immense damage.
So what can the rest of the world do?
First, look for the patterns in Trump’s policies. Patterns do not make a strategy but they do allow for a minimal degree of predictability. For example, Trump seems to get a visceral pleasure from disrupting things and creating chaos. Be on the alert.
Second, look for alternatives. Under Trump, the United States is destined to be an unreliable partner, even to its long-standing allies in NATO. Something said today could be contradicted before the sun rises tomorrow. Looking for alternatives does not only mean looking to other countries; there are multiple power centres in the United States itself, including important members of Congress, the Pentagon and intelligence communities and the think-tank community.
Third, do what many Americans are doing — wait prayerfully until 2020 and the prospect of a new president.
Finally, and I mean this only partially in jest, talk to the Trump sons who run his company, about building a Trump Tower in your country and then describe it as “the most magnificent building in the world,” “a tremendous building,” and “the greatest building ever built.” You get the point.