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The Many Faces of Trump Foreign Policy

From NBC. Admit it, you’d rather look at Nick Offerman than Donald Trump. Which is good. Because usage rights.

It won’t be too long before we start to get a better understanding of what foreign policy in a Trump Administration will actually look like. It’s useful to keep in mind that current rhetoric is no guarantee of future grand strategy. Remember when we all worried that the Bush Administration was going to be too isolationist? Good times.

But let’s assume, for a moment, that the past is prologue. Or the prologue is the main part of the book. Or whatever.

This raises an interesting puzzle: what the [email protected]!#* • #!*$$%*(!! is he doing? Seriously. What the !#(&–^&!# stupid #$#(*$!! is going on?

As I noted in another post, on what godforsaken inhospitable bright orange gas giant is it a good idea to attack your most successful alliance at the same exact time that you’re picking fights with your nearest peer-competitor—that is, China? And it isn’t like the incoming administration has been sending unambiguous signals to key Asian allies while it’s been prodding China. Oh yeah, and also North Korea’s in the mix.

As I was thinking about this—duly motivated by a discussion among fellow international-relations specialists on Facebook—I took to the Twitters to work out some alternative theories. Here they are:

The Chess Master.” Trump is a strategic genius. He recognizes that the US cannot afford to defend Europe while threatening war with China. He needs to take Russia out of the picture. So that means a “grand bargain” that will concede to Russia its privileged sphere of influence, as well as forward some of its other strategic priorities in western Eurasia. Not only does this free up the United States to take on Beijing, but it might even entice Russia to remain neutral—or support the US. It’s like the Austrian Diplomatic Revolution. Which turned out terrific for Vienna.

“The Transactionalist.” This is the conventional wisdom on Trump. He thinks in terms of short-term zero-sum bargains, mercantilist economics, and is deeply insecure about being taken advantage of. In his mind, NATO helps trade competitors. It’s basically a trade subsidy for Germany. But he can make big, splashy deals with countries like Russia. Maybe he can squeeze better deals from the NATO allies as well. There is a “T” in NATO, after all. It doesn’t have to stand for “Treaty.”

“Mirror Universe Teddy Roosevelt.” Trump speaks loudly and carries… a small stick… in his freakishly small hands. He’s all bluster. US foreign policy will largely carry on as normal, under the watchful eye of Defense, State, and second-tier national-security staff. In fact, Trump’s barking might just get a few NATO countries to make token increases in their defense spending, or offer more subsidies for American troops.

“The Buffoon.” This is kind of like Mirror Universe Teddy Roosevelt, but he actually means it; cooler heads aren’t going to prevail. It really is that bad. In other words, Trump is an impulsive narcissist and a walking example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Don’t worry too much about strategic logic. There really isn’t any. But some nice commentators—at Fox News, NewsMax, whatever new #MAGA journals appear, or the National Enquirer—will be happy to tell us that it’s genius. In a hundred years, Chinese revisionist historians will argue that there actually was a calculated grand strategy. They will be wrong.

“The Leninist.” The Trump ‘brain trust’—some combination of Bannon and Flynn—just want to burn it all down. This is something Cheryl Rofer (blog, Twitter) emphasizes. As reported at The Daily Beast:

“Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Bannon was employing Lenin’s strategy for Tea Party populist goals. He included in that group the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as the traditional conservative press.

In this scenario, it’s all about shredding globalism and liberal order. And that means watching NATO and the EU burn. Or, at least, gumming them up. Here, the eerie overlap with Russian interests is all a matter of convenience. They hate the liberal order, because it benefits the US and its allies. The Trumpistas hate the liberal order too, because reasons.

“The Transnational Rightist.” The Leninist is to revolutionary Marxism as The Transnational Rightist is to parliamentary socialism. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with NATO and the EU that a Europe dominated by a mix of right-wing populist and post-fascist parties won’t cure. The enemy is the broad European center—the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and so on. What Trump wants is the rise of political co-confessionals, such as the AfD in Germany, the Front National in France, and the Freedom Party in Austria. Hurting the establishment is good, but burning everything down would be a bit too much. Maybe just the EU. NATO can stay. Is Russia an ally of convenience or a fellow traveller? For now, it doesn’t really matter.

“The Useful Idiot.” Is Trump compromised by Kompromat? Is his overleveraged financial spider web dependent upon, intertwined with, or simply looking for the best deals in Russia? Does Trump just having a thing for strong, buff autocrats? Who knows? It’s all bad.

“Tales of the Incompetent Transition.” Transitions often make for policy instability and amateur-hour mistakes. I arrived at the Pentagon in 2009. The Obama Administration had just rolled out its new plans for European ballistic missile defenses. They were much better than the old plans. They also involved ending the “Third Site” in Poland. That the Bush Administration had so carefully negotiated. Apparently, no one gave  Warsaw a ‘heads up’. Things were bumpy for a bit.

Point is, even well-run transitions full of experienced people can go bad. And this is not one of those transitions. Eventually, there will be national-security principals, assistant secretaries, deputy assistant secretaries, and the rest of the crew. People will be briefed. Many will have a clue. Things will settle down.

…. Of course, it could be any combination of these. And perhaps I’ve missed some possibilities. Thoughts?

[cross-posted at the Duck of Minerva]



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  • Bootsie

    Trump: How much postage does it take to send a letter to China?
    Pence: Who’s it going to?
    Trump: China. It says, “Dear China, Fuck You.”

  • BobBobNewhartNewhartSpecial

    “The Chess Master.” Trump is a strategic genius.

    Born into wealth, and endlessly falling upwards – a better strategy than the one I came up with for my life, apparently.

    • sigaba

      The trick is, when the other guy opens with the French Defense, that’s when you start playing your Sheep cards hard and buying victory points.

      • rea

        Just ask that Kasparov guy who hs been so critical.

        • TheSophist

          I AM a chess master (it’s an official title) and every once in a while I encounter someone who says something along the lines of “I’ve never studied chess, but I’m really good at it because I make moves that my opponent doesn’t expect”. Of course, if I don’t expect my opponent’s move, it is almost always because IT’S A BAD MOVE.

          That, my friends, is Trump

    • Your first mistake was choosing non rich parents.

    • I submit “The Gaslighter.” Trump’s incessant tweets will convince China that everything is really its fault and convince it to invade itself with its own military.

  • JohnT

    The evidence would seem to suggest that Trump is in fact a Buffoon and/or a Useful Idiot who thinks he’s a Transactionalist who’s willing to Leninistically burn things down a bit.

    The trouble is that the foreign policy of the administration will be this Trumpism, but filtered through a foreign policy and military establishment which will be mostly staffed by standard Republicans who will have broadly the same instincts and priorities as they had 2005-8.

    How the hell that plays out is anyone’s guess. It comes down to whether Trump cares enough and has the energy to make the GOP folk do what he want via a lot of bullying and sacking. I would guess not, but the man has an infinite capacity to unpleasantly surprise.

    • Dr. Acula

      The evidence would seem to suggest that Trump is in fact a Buffoon and/or a Useful Idiot who thinks he’s a Transactionalist who’s willing to Leninistically burn things down a bit.

      This is how I see things too.

      • Manju

        I think so too but we must make room for “Mirror Universe Teddy Roosevelt”.

        After all, Trump does indeed speak loudly while carrying a small stick in his tiny hands and everybody knows this explains everything.

        • DAS

          “Mirror Universe Teddy Roosevelt” is essentially the message everybody in the Trump proto-administration is pushing on TeeVee:

          Yeah sure Trump talks crazy, and don’t we all love him for it?, but don’t worry — we’ll follow the ‘tough’ foreign policy that makes you journalists all tingly. And no … that doesn’t mean Trump is a sham. He’s a bold leader who is in charge. He’ll be driving the bus … but we’ll be navigating it, not he

          Heck, Tillerson’s testimony to Congress is that he’s to Putin as Fred Koch was to the Communists.

          Meanwhile, I think a lot of dispensationalists voted for Trump because he’s a Lenninist: burning things down is a necessary prelude to the Millennium. Econoclast’s “war on Islam” theory us compatible with Lenninism too: the western/central European powers and the system of international alliances are perceived as irredeemably squishy about Islamicism, so burning them all down is necessary for that war. I guess many religiously motivated Trump supporters (whether dispensationalists or shul attending Likudniks) supported Trump the Lenninist.

  • econoclast

    Another possibility: a war on Islam. Flynn seems to think we are in a civilizational struggle against Islam. The Russian propaganda on Syria has emphasized that the anti-Assad forces are Islamist barbarians, so it fits the idea that Putin hopes to enlist Trump in a War on Islam. The far-right parties in Europe would also be natural supporters, especially if they can restrict their involvement to attacking Muslims at home, and leave any fighting to the US and Russia.

    • Breadbaker

      How this fits into his love affair with Bibi and the plan to move the embassy to Jerusalem is anyone’s guess. But mine is that would unleash fury that would make letting the Shah into the US for medical treatment seem like the signing of a defense treaty with Iceland.

      • benjoya

        al-qaeda/ISIS/KSA is not and has never been a threat to israel. remember, bibi thinks the sauds are the moderates.

        • DAS

          Bibi’s friendship with the Saudis is the geopolitical version of his American supporters’ friendships with African-Americans.

        • Manny Kant

          It seems…wrong…to conflate the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with ISIS and al-Qaeda.

          • Shalimar

            Why? The Saudi Arabian government doesn’t officially have ties to ISIS or al-Qaeda, but neither of those organizations would exist on a large scale without Saudi Arabian money.

            • CP

              Al-Qaeda, Daesh and the rest are essentially the Saudi Frankenstein’s monster. They financed the shit out of the rise of Wahhabism in as many places as they could both as a counter to ideologies that were secularist, Shi’a, different Sunni, or otherwise unpleasant to them, and as a way to get their own extremists to point outwards at the Kingdom’s enemies rather than inwards at them. The current mess is the result.

              (Also our Frankenstein’s monster, given how long we went along with this).

          • wengler

            Um…Saudi Arabia is fighting a war against Yemeni Houthis. They’re doing so with the help of al-Qaeda. This isn’t funneling money and weapons to third parties anymore.

      • FreshPrince59

        Lots of European far-right parties are very supportive of Israel (not all but most). Guys like Geert Wilders see Israel as on the front lines of the war between Judeo-Christian civilisation and Islam. Also there is a real issue with anti-Semitism in a lot of European Muslim communities so it makes a nice stick to beat them with (same with LGBT rights). Trump is basically just a European far-right leader transplanted into the US (note how he started talking about refugees at the same time as the European refugee crisis despite the very different circumstances).

        Another thing I saw on Twitter which I thought was insightful was the idea that during the Obama presidency many on the right looked for a leader that exemplified everything they thought Obama was not: strength, nationalism, politically-incorrect, standing up to Muslims etc. Most of them went for Bibi, some of the fringes went for Putin (the far-right has a very weird view of Putin’s relationship with Islam). Trump has gone for both. I look forward to seeing how he plans to deal with Iran.

        • Richard Gadsden

          Add to this they see European Jews who don’t support hardline Likudnism as being doubly treasonous – betraying both Europe (ie white, anti-Islam) and Israel (ie Likud).

          They still think that European Jews have a conflict of interests in theory – but the interests of Israel (and therefore all Jews) happen to coincide with those of Europe (well, their idea of Europe) at the moment, so they’ll let it slide.

    • DAS

      A lot of Trump supporters in my neighborhood hope this is Trump’s foreign policy. Many of them grew up as religious minorities in areas where Muslims were the religious majority, and they are very prejudiced against Muslims.

      • Manny Kant

        Christian Arabs frequently seem to be among the most virulently anti-Muslim people anywhere.

        • CP

          Yes, I’ve noticed that. A few of them make lucrative careers in the wingnutosphere thanks to that.

          • Matt McIrvin

            Won’t they be surprised when they realize how little their white-supremacist friends care what a person actually believes.

      • PohranicniStraze

        Here in the DFW metro area, we have a large Keralite Christian community. I work with a few of them, and from what I hear they are mostly rabidly Republican, and many backed Trump to the hilt because they like the idea of a Muslim ban.

    • Gwen

      I think this is covered by “Transnational Rightist,” especially if one assumes (observes) that the Russian and European right have typically had a strong racialist component to their, uh, ideologies.

  • Sly

    It won’t be too long before we start to get a better understanding of what foreign policy in a Trump Administration will actually look like.

    I’ll lay twenty to one odds on “Incoherent.”

    Not in the sense Trump is incoherent – he is – but in that the White House will be sending out so many mixed signals to the rest of the world (not to mention to executive departments and agencies, as well as Congress) that the State Department won’t have any credibility to conduct diplomacy.

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      I can’t imagine working for Trump, trying to guess what he wants you to do, only to have your work undercut by some vague, incoherent 3 a.m. tweet, and then have Trump make some random comment a day or two later that takes yet another approach.

      And knowing the first time there’s a problem, real or perceived, as a result of all of this that you’ll be fired. After being vilified.

  • Hells Littlest Angel

    Is it possible for a man who has never imbibed to be a dry drunk?

    • econoclast

      Cocaine is dry.

    • What evidence other the his word do we have that he doesn’t drink? I mean it may be true but what evidence is there?

      • thequeso

        The man lies the way I breathe. Why should anyone actually take that statement at face value?

  • keta

    There’s little doubt that Trump will initiate a trade war with China. The appointment of Peter Navarro to the newly formed White House National Trade Council is a huge indicator.

    As for Russia, who the hell knows? Why, exactly, Trump is bending over backwards to kiss Putin’s ass is certainly open to conjecture. The only thing we know for sure is the kisses are deep (Tillerson), and a mere prelude to some sort of nasty diddling that will end with both of them somehow stuffing their pockets.

    • Manju

      Why, exactly, Trump is bending over backwards to kiss Putin’s ass is certainly open to conjecture

      Well, he can’t kiss the other side can he? Putin needs space to pee.

      • philip.koop

        Also, it requires way less yoga than kissing his own ass.

  • waspuppet

    “Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

    Has anyone ever asked him WhyTF he wants to do that? Personal amusement? I can’t think of anything better. Today’s establishment has propelled him about 30 times farther than his intellectual or physical (I don’t see him faring very well as a hunter-gatherer) gifts could have taken him.

    I know asking him such a question would never get him to actually admit “All I’m really looking to do is lower my taxes.” But maybe it would make that clear to everyone else?

    • bw

      I think that he is in this just to lower his taxes is unfortunately a wildly optimistic reading.

      I’m starting to think that Bill Clinton’s greatest policy disaster as President was not to have Bob Rubin invite every investment banker in New York to a gigantic floating coke-and-hookers orgy aboard a cruise ship somewhere between Manhattan and Bermuda, then (after helicoptering out the innocent hookers, of course) sending the boat to the bottom of the Atlantic.

    • econoclast

      I think it’s more than that. If you have a problem-free life, then modern life can be a bit boring. People want to blow up the world just for the excitement. You saw it with the neocons under Bush, and you see it here.

      • Matt McIrvin

        Peter Thiel was just saying that explicitly–that it’s bad for government to be too uncorrupt because it’s boring.

      • bw

        Yes. What we are seeing now is a cocktail of psychopathy, narcissism, and toxic masculinity coming to power. We are all ants under this douchebag’s magnifying glass.

        With Cheney, Rumsfeld, Feith, etc. these tendencies were at least somewhat counterbalanced by the very-wrong-but-not-insane (Rice, Powell, maybe Armitage). Now we basically have the worst exponent of this mentality completely running things, a psychopath i-banker. How many people will die just so he can feel like he’s finally triumphed over the other 7.5 billion of us?

  • Jackson87

    He and his brain trust have determined that they can make ginormous money doing these things. I don’t know how, but maybe the plan is to be so unsettling that the world chips in several tens of billions to get him to agree to go away.
    Put me down for 5 K.

  • bienenbaer

    The Kaiser is big in him.

    • Manny Kant

      The Kaiser may be the best example of a powerful world leader with a personality similar to Trump’s. That didn’t end well.

      • JonH

        I’d think Leopold II might be closer, but we’ll have to see how Trump abuses his power.

  • hz

    The “wtf is he doing?” question also keeps me up at night.

    So far, the most compelling explanation I can think of is this: Trump and his Team are deliberately setting up a dysfunctional government, weakening the USA as a whole in the process.

    – With few exceptions, Trump has chosen candidates who are openly hostile to the institutions they are going to lead and/or are obviously unqualified to lead them.

    – Trump and his transition team alienate and/or mock career bureaucrats that a traditional government would rely on to work effectively.

    – Same for members of the intelligence services and diplomatic corps.

    – Trump breaks several decade-old foreign policy dogmas all at once, alienates long-time foreign allies while cozying up to proud foes of the US, all without offering a clear replacement agenda.

    – Trump and the GOP offer no clear agenda on, well, anything. No actual plan for health-care, no actual plan for economic policy. Everything is fuzzy, incomplete, incomprehensible.

    All in all, this sums up as sowing chaos and uncertainty, making everybody else fight each other, keeping them busy while he does

    So why would they want a dysfunctional government? To kneecap the institutions that would stop him and his team during the coming years of kleptocracy.

    There is a more eloquent argument for this in an article about Trump and the carbon bubble by Alex Steffen, who thinks that Team Trump is using the last chance to grab more money from the public and run before the carbon bubble bursts – which they know will happen. (Scroll down to the The Carbon Lobby and the Trump Gang section in that article.)

    • hz

      Missing end of sentence there: keeping them busy while Trump extracts money from the presidency.

    • so-in-so

      So, standard GOP on steroids is the answer.

      • DAS


        During the primaries, many people were asking “why doesn’t the GOP do more to stop Trump?” It seems now that the GOP were smart to nominate Trump: he’s gonna govern essentially as a bog-standard Republican, albeit maybe one on (both figuratively and perhaps literally) steroids; but Trump was electable in a way that other Republicans simply weren’t — as a loser’s idea of a winner, Trump spoke to the deplorables and those who have lost to mischance in a way that no other politician could. With bog standard GOoPs holding their noses and voting for him knowing that he’d govern as a bog standard GOoP, the additional votes of the deplorables and losers brought him over the top, allowing the GOP to completely control the government in spite of the unpopularity of their ideology. So how did the GOP go wrong in nominating him?

    • rea

      run before the carbon bubble bursts

      Where are they going to run to? Mars?

      • hz

        Four or eight years of delay for the carbon bubble burst equals a lot of money for Team Trump’s appointees.

      • Schadenboner

        Higher ground, behind gates, with private security.

    • MDrew

      This seems highly plausible to me. Doesn’t mean it’ll all play out that way…

    • Robespierre

      But that requires Trump & co to
      1) not be climate-denialist idiots
      2) stop the machine before millions die

      Is it even possible to stop the machine?

      Remember, the fourth world can do the least to stop this, will be hit first and hardest, and can do the least about the damage.

      • Matt McIrvin

        Fossil-fuel industry knows anthropogenic global warming is real. Their plans to drill in the Arctic depend on it. They’re just liars.

        Rich people can survive the coming climate disasters for the next century or so perfectly well. They don’t care about anything beyond that.

      • Lurking Canadian

        2) stop the machine before millions die

        It does not require this step at all from Trump’s perspective. A climate catastrophe that kills millions or even billions is not the same thing as a climate catastrophe that kills Trump’s immediate family. He would only care about the latter.

        At MOST, Trump is making the assumption that when the populace finally wrests the keys to the machine from his hands, we do not string him up from a lamppost.

    • Asteroid_Strike_Brexit

      Trump and his Team are deliberately setting up a dysfunctional government

      That implies Trump had a plan to be dysfunctional, which I don’t believe. More plausibly, the very capable team of vampires that ingratiated themselves with Trump have a plan to get extremely rich. This may happen by selling out allies or exploiting US taxpayers; it matters not.

      • Brad Nailer

        I agree, but let’s not forget: Hillary’s corrupt.

        • hz

          Sure. I’m so glad she isn’t president now. So glad.

    • Manny Kant

      Stop assuming Trump is doing anything deliberately.

      • hz

        Like the original blog post, I’m trying to make sense of all this somehow. I don’t doubt that Trump himself is an impulsive toddler with no plan at all, but despite all the hoopla, I doubt that everyone in his transition team and the GOP is stupid and without a plan.

        • Musashi

          “I doubt that everyone in his transition team and the GOP is stupid and without a plan.”

          …why? Trump is a level 50 narcissistic man-child, so he decided to surround himself with likeminded deplorables. The GOP, on the other hand, are evil plutocrats, so they never really have any plans outside of 1. stack paper for their corporate masters 2. stack paper for the military. That’s largely it, outside of some Christian Dominionist pet projects. So they look like a bunch of shitheads on things like the ACA because they just want to blow it up without replacing it, but they can’t just come out and say “we are going to kick 20 million people off health insurance because fuck em.” That would be too impolitic. But they are going to do everything in their power to make sure that the ACA and all the rest of the Obama legacy are completely dismantled. THAT is the plan

    • DAS

      Trump and his Team are deliberately setting up a dysfunctional government, weakening the USA as a whole in the process.

      Nihilists! Fuck me. Say what you want about the tenets of neo-liberalism, at least its an ethos.

      Also: so much for MAGA

    • Bufflars

      Interesting read, thanks for the comment. Makes a lot of sense.

    • hz
  • anonymous

    I’m not sure if Trump is being blackmailed by Putin or acting as his useful idiot but everything that Putin would ever want is being fulfilled.

    Trump is weakening traditional Western alliances all over the world and the liberal Western order by openly supporting break up of EU and NATO and other defensive treaties.

    Trump is taking a hardline position towards Chinese spheres of influence while conceding the same with Russia in its “near abroad” and the Middle East and giving it a free hand to do what it wants.

    Trump is weakening free trade and encouraging a reemergeance of old mercantilist economics that will greatly benefit Russia.

    Putin must be considered the greatest statesman of our times. From a state the size of Mexico in terms of its population and economy, Putin has reasserted itself as a World Power by weakening all its rivals and seeing it’s two greatest rivals in the US and China on a collision course.

    If he is doing this by blackmail and hacking the US election, he has achieved all his strategic goals without firing a single shot.

    • MDrew

      Let’s wait and see just a little bit, there, Chochy.

    • JonH

      It’s the most impressively lopsided takeover since NeXT took over Apple.

      And it remains to be seen if there will be no shots fired, especially once NATO is crippled.

  • Cheerfull

    A French deputy in the European parliament, the other day, advocated for a closer French/German military alliance in a world where England and the U.S. could no longer be trusted to defend the European continent. This could be a presage to a future where France and Germany are allied against England, the U.S. and Russia in defense of democratic values. Perhaps Trump just likes a good joke.

    • JohnT

      Amusing but implausible. More likely, and more even stranger would be a status quo-supporting alliance of the rump EU, China and Japan consisting of countries with elites in charge and keen on trade and peace, versus the revisionist coalition of Russia and the USA, with the UK dithering in between.

      Why the hell the US, which has been the greatest beneficiary of trade, peace & the current world order, would want to lead such a coalition is I think the question our host is rightly asking.

      • CP

        Why the hell the US, which has been the greatest beneficiary of trade, peace & the current world order, would want to lead such a coalition is I think the question our host is rightly asking.

        The creator, in large part, of the current world order; one of the greatest beneficiaries of the current world order; and yet willing to burn it all down.

        I continue to be fascinated, though more and more morbidly so, by the phenomenon of privileged assholes, who don’t really have much material reason to mind the system, being the ones who eventually spawn movements with the bright idea of bringing it all down. In IR, this gives you the phenomenon of the U.S’s increasing whining about the UN, NATO, and every other institution that it was instrumental in building and in which it wields enormous, disproportionate influence. In domestic policy, this gives you the 1%’s decades-long project to turn us into a failed state, and in slightly lesser measure, the generally not-rich-but-not-poor-either voter base of the GOP that we’ve decided for inexplicable reasons to christen “the White Working Class.”

    • bizarroMike

      It is scary, but it is also very sensible for them to explore other avenues of military cooperation. I don’t think Trump has any kind of plan, and I especially don’t think he understands treaties. Any two states can sign a treaty. What matters is that the world believes they will stick to its terms. NATO’s success has been that folks thought it was a certainty that the NATO powers would come to each others aid. I remember many NATO nations insisting on providing troops for the Afgan war, for instance. I think Trump is used to short term deal making and breaking, where there’s another sucker just over the horizon. That isn’t the way things are now, though. Other states have to believe you, Mr Trump.

      Christ, he’s like a novice Diplomacy (the board game) player, obsessed with backstabbing an bluster. Veteran players understand the primacy of building networks of trust.

      • Christ, he’s like a novice Diplomacy (the board game) player, obsessed with backstabbing an bluster. Veteran players understand the primacy of building networks of trust.

        So we can betray them all the more brutally later.

        • bizarroMike

          I like to think I do it with a sorrowful mien, but yeah… There can be only one, and it will be Italy!

    • Find a role for Turkey and you’ve got Diplomacy! Or do I mean Risk? \/\/hatever. The point (I think) is that we’ve been way overestimating the nature of the simulation in which we are embedded; turns out those transdimensional mice really just like to push the pieces around.

      ETA: I will now write “Read to the end of the thread, dammit” 100 times on the blackboard.

      • JonH

        As I say, if we’re in a simulation, that simulation is being passed around via social media with the caption “LOL”

  • Peterr

    As alluded to above by JohnT, it is critical to separate who Trump thinks he is from who Trump is when it comes to foreign policy. It’s the disjunction of the two that will create the true problems.

    I think he sees himself as a Chess Master/Transactionalist, but will act as a Leninist/Buffoon. He thinks of himself as the grandest dealmaker in the world, but acts in ways that are not grand but small and petty. There’s also a strong element of Useful Idiot, not simply with reference to Putin but also the Religious Right (why would Pence have signed on as VP when he did, if not to be able to “use” Trump to approve various TheoCon wishlists), Israel (more on this below), those seeking to profit from climate denialism, and others.

    You get some great deals at a fire sale, so the “burn it all down” fits quite well. It also leaves the US as the last great nation standing, which fits Trump & Co.’s imperialistic vision of the US (with Trump as Emperor).

    The proposed move of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be a strong move in this direction. Some in Trump’s orbit would do this out of religious reasons, and there some would claim there is a domestic political net gain to Trump for doing this. But I think the dealmaker in Trump would look at like this: “We’ve tried working on a two-state solution for years, since that loser Jimmy Carter tried to bribe Egypt and Israel into not killing each other. We’ve spent billions paying off both sides, year after year, and what has it gotten us? More hands reaching into out pockets. Let’s just pick a side — and Israel has been our friend since the very beginning — and end this thing. Why, I’ll probably get the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing real peace to the middle east!

    You can bet Bibi has been whispering sweet nothings in Trump ear that sound much like this, which stroke Trump’s ego in just the way he likes it stroked.

    Meanwhile, the cooler heads will either run for the hills, scoot deeper into their office foxholes, or have their heads up on pikes for disagreeing with the Impeccable Logic and Rightness of Dear Leader.

    Another sign of Trump’s inner Buffoon being the real star of the show is Trump’s birtherism. Long after it was settled, he kept pushing it and pushing it. Being played for a fool by Obama at the WH correspondent’s dinner lit a fuse in Trump that has been burning slowly ever since. He does NOT like being seen as the buffoon, but it keeps peeking out no matter how much he tries to hide it.


    And a happy good morning to all of you, too.

    I knew I should have had a cup of coffee before clicking on this post.

    • econoclast

      Do you think they could cut off support for Egypt? Have there been any gestures in that direction?

      • CP

        My impression was that the right wing couldn’t be happier with Sisi, and figure him for their very own Arab Pinochet. Our right wing, that is. Not sure about Israel’s.

        • Domino

          Wanna say I read somewhere that Israel has known Sisi for decades due to him being in intelligence, and are pretty satisfied with having him in charge.

      • Just_Dropping_By

        You think if the president says he wants to eliminate aid to Egypt that there’s going to be anything close to a majority to save it unless Netanyahu says he wants to continue? I’d think the only question is whether cutting off aid actually gets a unanimous vote in the Senate.

  • FreshPrince59

    It’s probably more useful to think of Trump as having a few principles (his view of trade/the world in general as zero-sum being the most important) but mostly as the composite of the views he is getting from his advisors/TV. People who have worked with him have noted that he tends to agree with the last person he spoke to, and I’d imagine this is especially true on stuff like One China or the Iran Deal where he doesn’t bring much knowledge to the table. His views are so coherent because he is surrounded by people with completely different views – I imagine the war on Islam stuff comes from Bannon and Flynn, the anti-China stuff comes from Navarro (this might actually come from Trump himself), his occasional forays into standard GOP policy come from Priebus or Mattis, all his thoughts on Brexit seem to come from Nigel Farage and so on. Get ready for 4 years of leaking, infighting, moronic trial balloons floated every day through the press/twitter and resignations.

    • DAS

      Sounds like the Reagan administration but with up to date technology.

  • Frank Wilhoit

    There is no such thing as foreign policy. Every mention of any overseas actor (whether it be a nation-state, its government, one of its parties or factions, or supranational entities such as Islam) is an allegory for some domestic faction.

  • UnderTheSun

    He recognizes that the US cannot afford to defend Europe while threatening war with China.

    Who does the US need to defend NATO from? Refugees? Perhaps if the United States stopped starting/supporting wars in south western Eurasia and Africa and focused on economic development for that area instead of trying to pillage it, the refugee problem could be resolved. Russia? Europe’s defence expenditure is five times that of Russia. With Putin in office Russia is not going to attack Europe and even if he suddenly announced he wanted to, I doubt he’d have much support from the Russian people. Regardless of what some idiots here claim, Russia is not a dictatorship.

    He needs to take Russia out of the picture. So that means a “grand bargain” that will concede to Russia its privileged sphere of influence, as well as forward some of its other strategic priorities in western Eurasia.

    Why does Russia need a “privileged position? Does Putin actually want one? And what are his “strategic priorities” in western Eurasia? Stopping the spread of Wahhabism? Making Ukraine stable? They are ideas that most of the world, except the United States and a few of its less attractive allies, wants.

    Not only does this free up the United States to take on Beijing, but it might even entice Russia to remain neutral—or support the US.

    Why does the United States need to “take on” Beijing? Is China building a massive armada to launch an invasion of the continental United States? Is China threatening an unconditional invasion of any of its neighbors?
    Perhaps Trump is a realist who understands that most of the “threats” to American security are fake, that the United States is the world’s preeminent superpower and will remain so for some years to come, and that war is stupid when you can do business with your competitors.

    • Nick never Nick

      Russia is an authoritarian state that has already attacked Europe.

      Putin is not trying to make Ukraine stable.

      No one is arguing that the US needs to ‘take on’ Beijing. The point of the essay is that Trump looks like he is preparing to do that, as opposed to building a stable relationship to a major trading partner.

      If war is stupid, why destroy complex, important international organizations? These prevent war, as does a coherent, well-communicated foreign policy.

      • bizarroMike

        Thank you.

        I’ll agree that foreign policy is often conducted to benefit the few rather than the many, and that the US would be a lot better off building stable, prosperous partners than propping up dictators for the sake of continuity among allies, but… this is none of that. This is the idiotic actions of a moron who has convinced himself that he is brilliant.

    • Just_Dropping_By

      Perhaps Trump is a realist who understands that most of the “threats” to American security are fake

      It would be nice to think that, but Trump’s national security-related appointments don’t line up with that being his view.

    • Matty

      With Putin in office Russia is not going to attack Europe and even if he suddenly announced he wanted to, I doubt he’d have much support from the Russian people.

      This is true if and only if you define “Europe” to not include Ukraine.

      • UnderTheSun

        That should have been NATO.

    • imwithher

      This is the Pat Buchanan/”The American Conservative” take on Trump’s FP.

      Problem is, there is nothing to back it up.

      Trump was on record supporting the second Iraq War. Despite his lies to the contrary. He was on record favoring the Libyan adventure. And he is on record supporting a massive escalation in Syria. His real beef with Iraq II is that we didn’t just “take the oil.” And he still talks about doing that. He favors the use of torture. He has made noises about using nuclear weapons in a casual, first rather than last resort way.

      China? It is Trump who is threatening to upset the apple cart, with his ignorant musings re Taiwan, and his trade war threats.

      Iran? Trump has threatened to tear up the deal Obama made.

      I/P? The plan to move the embassy to Jerusalem tells you all you need to know.

      Trump, by doing any of the crap he has mentioned, would inflame the Arab and probably the Muslim world. Formalizing the sell out of the Palestinians? Flat out resource-grabbing the oil wealth, like an 18th century colonialist? Jeez.

      Even with Russia, Trump is on record as favoring getting into a shooting war over routine fly-by, “buzzing” incidents.

      Beyond the specifics, Trump is all about belligerence. Every thing he says just oozes and seethes with hostility and anger. He sees HRC and the NY Times, and even his former GOP primary opponents, as “enemies,” for Christ sake.

      And, with all that, rather than shore up alliances, Trump is undermining them. So that, when he does start a war, he won’t have any “coalition of the willing” to back him up.

      Trump, as pointed out above, has no fucking plan, at all. He knows nothing, and sees everything in the most idiotically simple terms. What is good for his wallet, and his ego? Who can he bully, who can he humiliate? Who can he lash out at if they don’t genuflect to him? Those are his FP “principles.”

      Even all this trade and immigration horseshit is just convenient bluster. Trump personally has profited from outsourcing labor and hiring undocumented workers. His WIFE was probably an undocumented worker in his employ!

      “Realist?” You have got to be kidding me! Trump lives in a fantasy world of wish fulfillment. You can see it in his personal life, and in his business dealings. He has no sense of limits. No sense of what makes sense and what doesn’t. Our system of corporate irresponsibility and money trumps legal principles allowed him to skate by, personally unharmed, by all of his previous screw ups. But there is no reason to expect that the same will apply to his FP. And even less hope to think that realism, rather than greed, ego, and macho posturing, will be his basis for acting.

      The only prediction I would be confident in making re his FP is that he will fuck it up. That he will probably blunder and bluster his way into a totally unnecessary war. And then fuck that up too.

      His whole life is one fuck up after another. Despite all the advantages in life that he got through no efforts or talent of his own, the only two things he was ever actually any good at were playing a semi fictionalized version of his own asshole-boss-tycoon self on TV, and then selling that same persona to the racists/morons who vote in GOP primaries and for the GOP in presidential elections.

      He is not a deal maker. Not a negotiator. Not a good delegator. Not a person with a vision. Not a competent manager. Not a competent anything (except, again, at being a cartoon image of himself in a way that pleases people who are quite literally deplorable and/or stupid and ignorant).

      He will totally fuck up FP, and every other kind of policy. His Administration will be totally incoherent. There will be no clear chain of command. Every appointee will be for himself. Leading to chaos. And Trump will be mostly too busy Twitting and being a douchebag to pay much attention, unless it is to step in and make things worse.

  • pillsy

    Donald Trump is a stupid person’s idea of a Russian agent.

    • Jameson Quinn

      Literally so.

  • MDrew

    Great post.

    I’m wondering if the Kompromat conception of what’s going on might not be a little too limited in scpoe given the possibilities. Fist of all, (I’m not sure) does financial dependence fall under the category of Kompromat? Doesn’t really matter, terminological question. But that seems like the most likely basis for a blackmail scenario. Putin can have Tump’s mob loans (that prop up his more legit business loans) called; hence Trump is his tool (according to one possibility).

    But it’s also possible that this is a more bilateral partnership. Or simply that Trump sees it this way. That Trump doesn’t feel that Putin has threatened him, but rather that PUtin has simply made himself very useful to Trump. There could be an ideological component to how Putin has achieved this kind of bind with Trump (transatlantic white alliance, anti-Islam, whatever it might be), or Trump could simply be operating consciously as a self-interested financial concern, without any real regard to something we dupes might try to conceive of as the the U.S. national interest.

    Anyway, in this excellent breakdown of the possibilities I think all of the above would fall under the Useful Idiot or Kompromat label, but I’m not sure those terms quite get at the extent of all the possibilities regarding what a Trump-Putin alliance may be based upon.

    • JonH

      I could imagine Trump responding to Putin having him over a barrel by rationalizing his situation as being a fantastic opportunity and a mutually beneficial deal, and thus shoring up his damaged ego.

      • MDrew

        I agree, that’s definitely a possibility. But Trump seeing it that way is or could be relevant to how we understand what the [email protected]!#* • #!*$$%*(!! he is doing. – and to what he is, in fact doing, because it could shape the way he understands and pursues it.

  • Gwen

    I think it’s been said that Trump’s opinion is the same as the last person he spoke to.

    To the extent that Trump seems to have multiple plausible explanations, it’s because he’s surrounded himself with a incoherent coterie.

    “Schizophrenic” might be the best description, I think. (Although this might be covered by “buffoon.”)

  • Nick never Nick

    This might fit into one of the above theories, but I’ve noticed that a lot of alt-right people subscribe to an idiot’s view of Spengler — ‘grand sweep of history’, peace in Eurasia is a matter of controlling the hordes, demography and imnperial decline are always in evidence. I don’t think Trump subscribes to this kind of romanticism, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his foreign policy ‘thinking’ is based on similar vague stereotypes.

    • I wasn’t particularly clear. I see this kind of stuff—as well as the Clash of Civilizations view—as part of the Transnational Right/Leninist cluster.

      • Nick never Nick

        nah, I didn’t read particularly carefully.

        • Nope. This one’s definitely on me. Implicit not explicit. Actually mentioned in the Twitter version.

  • Crusty

    Trump is just a guy who has words fall out of his mouth. As for konpromat, I suspect that Putin was delighted to find that he wouldn’t actually need any. Why bother with a pee party tape when he can be easily and openly manipulated through his ego and thin skin. He’s an easy project for a first year FSB trainee.

    The one that scares me is Flynn. There was a Nelson Demille novel a few years back where a group of American “patriots” wanted to detonate a nuclear device in the US so that the US would activate a contingency retaliation plan and bomb all the Arab capitals. Flynn would have been part of that conspiracy.

    • wengler

      If the Putin worship is genuine, then Flynn and friends will start bombing US apartment buildings and blame on the people they hate(Muslims/Mexicans/Leftists/CNN).

  • Shalimar

    I think the Trump administration views foreign policy through two different lenses, trade and military. Trade is the dominant one to begin with because they are focused on dismantling the E.U. The U.S. is the dominant world power, and everyone else should be in a subservient trade relationship with us, with newly renegotiated deals that are more favorable to our interests.

    From a military point of view, ISIS and all other potential conflicts will be magically resolved somehow so we can focus on the #1 rival to American power, China. They are seeking more than a trade war with China. They want to turn it into a new Cold War, with all the jingoism and total loyalty to our Trump leaders that they think that entails.

    I think their ambitions are far ahead of their abilities so they won’t be able to achieve any of this. But Bannon and Flynn are very confident, and this is what they think they will accomplish.

    • keta

      Don’t forget Jared, the Son-in-Law That Could, is going to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and bring peace – finally! – to that region of the world.

      Trump says Jared, “went to Harvard, is very smart…” but never seems to mention that Kushner senior bought Jared’s place at Harvard.

      “Their ambitions are far ahead of their abilities” seems to be a very kind phrasing.

      • CP

        Don’t forget Jared, the Son-in-Law That Could, is going to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and bring peace – finally! – to that region of the world.

        There’s a Star Wars novel in which a group of quislings negotiate for a peace agreement with the latest group of invading fundamentalist aliens, not bothering to learn that the word for “peace” actually means “willing submission to a conqueror.”

        For some reason that popped into my head when hearing about Kushner bringing “peace” to the Middle East.

  • Colin Day

    According to the Austrian Diplomatic Revolution link, Britain rejected Austria as an ally.

    • Scott P.

      Right, previous to the Diplomatic Revolution, the pattern was that Britain would use the Hapsburgs as their European land partners to restrain the Bourbons, something that you saw in the War of the Spanish Succession, for example, as well as in many other cases. Post-Diplomatic Revolution, Austria teamed up with France to go against Prussia and Britain.

  • JDM

    You missed one: The Squirrel in the Middle of the Road.

    Other than when he’s taking direction from Putin, as we’ve seen him doing since before his nomination, Trump simply reacts at the moment, often in contradictory ways from moment to moment.

    • so-in-so

      We see how that often works for the squirrel. Except, it’s apt to work for all of the U.S. now :~{

  • cpinva

    I’ll take “Complete Dumbass” for $500 Alex.

    Ding, ding, ding! Oh look, it’s the daily double!

  • Matt_L

    I would like to quibble with the Leninist description. My understanding of Lenin is less about burning it all down and more instrumentalist like “Seize the State to smash Capitalism.” Once Lenin and the Bolsheviks had the state, capitalism was falling apart in Russia anyways.

    In terms of the international order, they were OK with publishing the Tsarist government’s diplomatic correspondence in the hopes that it would further their goal of sparking world revolution. When it didn’t Lenin and his successors reverted to acting like a normal international player by seeking out diplomatic relations with the rest of the world after the Civil War was over.

    I think the whole ‘burn everything down’ pose of Bannon et al is more like a page from the Bakunin playbook.

  • Yankee

    The Opportunist who has always made his way by cheating his subcontractors and diverting revenue streams from failed businesses. In this scenario, Trump will do whatever raises the whirlwind, in the belief that he is positioned to pick up some good pieces. Letting Putin have an unobstructed front to his west while giving China a good smack on the nose is certainly going to be “disruptive”. NB, he didn’t get here by having a plan but by following his feet.

    PS, it’s built into the system. Somebody had to do it.

  • wengler

    All of the categories are far too coherent for what we are going to see. Imagine a thousand different foreign policy agendas each being undermined by rage tweets.

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