“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first,” vowed US 45th President Donald Trump during his inauguration on January 20 where he outlined his administration’s platforms described as ‘nationalist’, ‘populist’ and importantly an “isolationist view” of U.S. global role.
While the Republican President is set to redefine a new vision of “America first” for the next four years, it is inevitable for a deeply-engaged United States to restrain itself and downplay its global role as a ‘superpower’ especially amidst a rebalancing of the international system, which is becoming increasingly unpredictable brought by a number of growing economic and military powers as well as unexpected events in most important regions and nations around the world.
Yet, amidst a dwindling and a threatened American role in the magnitude of international politics as evidenced by some ‘uncontrollable’ actions and ‘unsuccessful’ attempts, it is certain though that the U.S. will still play a defining role in global politics given its great economy, innovation, resources, military influence, and a history of dominance.
A 2016 survey of the world’s most influential countries in almost all aspects from international politics to entertainments reveals the US as the most influential country in terms of cultural influence, political influence and strong international alliances. It is not surprising as the U.S. holds the current biggest economy and advanced military which makes less equipped countries dependent on its ‘global police role’ in balancing against existing and possible threats.
Drawing from the case of Asia-Pacific region which is becoming the focus of international politics given the growing economies of China, Japan, India, South Korea, and some Southeast Asian countries, the United States has maintained its policy of reassuring security commitments to its Asian allies who feel being threatened by China’s rise. In the same degree of US security commitments is the extent of acceptance and ‘loyalty’ of allies towards US policies in the region.
Nevertheless, a globally engaged U.S. makes a Trump protectionism a contradiction to a long established American posture towards the international system and world order. An isolationist view of US global role just simply seems a very far-fetch reach. That is, mutually America needs the world while most countries also need America. And, whether Trump succeeds remains in the changing pulse of domestic politics and of the international community.
Yet, one thing is sure, as great as the American role in most global phenomena from World War II to the Vietnam War shall be its responsibility in either maintaining a status quo or in contributing towards a new world order, or otherwise suffer the weight of karma when the world comes knocking to its doors. In the words of writer Joel Weickgenant (2017) “All politics is global now, and with its size, geography, and economic and military preponderance, the United States will play a leading role, and for better or worse will feel the consequences of its actions. Retrenchment is dead letter.”
The bottom line, there is no more turning back for a U.S. global engagement. A world order created by its historical dominance and imposition of Western ideologies will either continue to thrive or result to a new order. A protectionist stance, nonetheless, is detrimental to the country and to every country, for good or for worse, as global connectivity is apparent alongside a growing ‘unchecked’ threat of nuclear ambitions from North Korea and an ‘unregulated’ behavior of China, among others.
A shift of US policy towards the world depends on a kind of orientation a new Republican leadership of White House has. This paper aims to evaluate President Trump’s policy on two important agenda as laid out during his inauguration address which is especially relevant in international politics—American protectionism and of alliances and “radical Islamic terrorism”. These, may or may not, seem promising but it is surely a manifestation of a renewed and different prospect for US foreign relations politically and economically as well as in intervention efforts.
“We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor,” expressed President Trump.
Currently, the United States is the world’s largest economy with the U.S. dollar being the most used currency in international transactions. It remains one of the largest exporter and importer of goods and services. In 2016, the U.S. was the world’s third largest exporter, after China and the European Union; it was the world’s second largest importer after the EU. Its largest trading partners include Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, Germany, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.
No doubt about US immense economic powers sweeping across the world being translated as a key driver in influencing many of the country’s domestic politics especially in conceptualizing foreign policies. And, apart from a widespread economy, US military power is also strategically positioned in some most important regions in Asia-Pacific and Middle East, which were viewed to deter threat to its supposed national security and regional dominance.
US economic and military links with strategic countries, not to mention societal results of American integration within these nations and vice versa, only prove how America is deeply connected to the world. Thus, the thought of isolating economic movement within its own border is highly unlikely in this gradually changing international system characterized by globalization, greater interactions between and among states and nations, and regional groupings resulting to freer flow of goods and services. And for the United States, it is no exception.
A protectionist policy is “any policy that provides an unfair advantage to a home industry versus the international competition”. President Trump, being a billionaire businessman himself, is keen on taking such crucial steps which may or may not be, considering numerous factors ranging from domestic pulse to international reactions, on the best interest of his country.
He laments “(O)ne by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.” While no key policies have been approved towards achieving this aside from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) withdrawal, Trump will certainly bear the price from a multitude of factors ranging from US corporations to a sort of national betrayal of ‘liberal ideology’ long established for generations.
Nonetheless, the so-called ‘redistribution of American wealth across the world’ stems from two rationales—from an economic viewpoint based on a logical conclusion of lower economic costs of doing business overseas, and from a strategic reason of engaging the world to adapt and play by U.S. rules of international order. American corporations are very much aware of the difference of investment cost across countries where labor cost is much lower compared to the United States. In fact, US multinational corporations are wide-spread across the world especially in developing nations of Southeast Asia and Africa.
On one hand, a redistribution of American wealth resulted from a US policy of economic engagement with countries around the world which is in view towards making them adapt and integrate themselves to a US-led international system through trade agreements and/or pledge of assistance.
To put, U.S. economy is dependent both at home and overseas. For instance, imports in the country is higher than what it exports which indicates that goods and services entering the United States are greater than what is going out of the country. This only proves that even if the country is very capable of producing all it needs, it cannot demand American industries to stay at home. “American business will become increasingly disadvantaged in its access to the 95 percent of consumers living outside the U.S. In addition, the U.S. economy will experience meaningful drops in business efficiency and competitiveness,” opines Meltzer & Solis (2017).
Trump may seek to prioritize America first as a defense to what he describes “enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry”, in a strategic perspective, however, this move is detrimental not only on its part in keeping presence and forging alliances but also with its economic and military partners. From a US viewpoint, it is bartering a strategic position towards accommodating a potential growth of China which is seemingly tracking a similar path of economic engagement in an effort to strengthen its regional influence.
American economic prowess manifests a part in sustaining its global power. Without it, eventually its global power diminishes while these recipients may seek aid from other economic powers. Just few days after taking his oath , President Trump signed US withdrawal from TPP which though economically beneficial to U.S., it is losing its allies on one hand while fueling the growth of other economic powers. As Meltzer & Solis (2017) puts “(R)emoving the U.S. from the TPP also increases uncertainty among U.S. allies about the reliability of the U.S. across a range of foreign, economic and security matters.” On the contrary, this decision ultimately gives the benefit of eliminating ‘free riding’ from partner countries, thus empowering them to sort out economic lapses and formulate cooperation among them.
Outside American perspective, a Trump protectionism is unfavorable in the global economy as once tariffs of import goods in US increases, the prices of other goods circulating the world market will surely bounce while putting poorer countries at a very loosing ends. Further, other economic powers may see the possibility of monopolizing global and domestic markets of developing countries. And, it is always proper when there exist a checks-and-balances.
The odds are high but this has been Trump’s apolitical campaign before entering the White House. His foreign policy track may seem a backdrop of a previously established US world ideology, however, he sees the existing American policies that “made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.” He added “(P)rotection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down.”
On the other hand, amidst expansionism of a rising global power China claiming almost whole of South China Sea and seemingly deaf of international laws as evident by not submitting to the ruling of the International Arbitration Court over the territorial dispute, the United States will play a crucial role in regulating Chinese behaviors. At the very least, economic engagement with Asia-Pacific countries will be, in one way or another, determinant of the region’s future. A maintained status quo can prevent similar aggressiveness that could one way spark another conflict. US will always remain a superpower. And, its wealth and power will grow.
Yet, a message is given to the United States. On the part of US trading partners, the risks are low with US leaving TPP because a US position can always be replaced. However, one concern is that this may be used by other power-seeking and self-serving countries such as China, having a history of aggressiveness, in more demanding and bullying smaller countries. But, who knows that ‘good’ or ‘better’ countries will come at play. Nevertheless, globalization is fast convening states and economic connection is growing, thus, disintegration seems illogical. For the United States to withdraw, it just simply can’t.
On Alliances & ‘Radical Islamic Terrorism’
“We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth,” said President Trump.
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS remains one of the largest threats against humanity as acts of terrorism are growing in global scale in various parts of the world. ISIS-pledged extremist groups are, in fact, increasing in most conflict-driven countries in almost all regions not to mention the case of Southeast Asia where the two biggest terrorist groups, the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah, have pledged allegiance to ISIS leadership. And, for a regarded ‘global police force’ U.S. who led air strikes against ISIS for the past years, it is only right for President Trump to get the work going in eliminating terrorism and other extremist organizations.
However, in a contextual view, Trump’s generalization of ISIS terrorism to Islamic terrorism encompasses racial discrimination against the Muslim people. The recent travel ban of people entering the U.S. from various Muslim countries in Middle East only proves this. It is creating a racial thinking that Muslim communities are always associated with terrorism. Let history reminds the U.S. that the battle against Islamic terrorism is America’s war. History accounts how Islamic insurgencies resulted from a long US engagement in Middle East beginning with Al-Qaeda group, which though diminished, gradually paved way for ISIS emergence. Similarly, both groups share anti-western ideologies, and not anti-humanity.
As the face against ISIS, the U.S. plays a vital role in eradicating terrorism across the globe. But, this fight doesn’t mean going beyond leading US strikes in a foreign land as civilian casualties are increasing at a significant scale. It displaced thousands of people seeking refuge to other countries which are apparently reluctant in accommodating refugees. So that history might not repeat itself, the U.S. must maintain self-restraint and show respect for the sovereignty of domestic concerns.
“We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow,” probably the right words for President Trump.
Alongside a ground military battle against terrorism is destroying its ‘radical ideology’. As long as there are sympathizers, terrorism will continue to thrive. Pattern of ISIS emergence shows that these groups are associated with other extremist groups in various countries. Hence, as a hardliner against ISIS, the U.S. should rally the international community with respect to domestic interests.
On the other hand, while there is no clear track on Trump’s foreign policies in handling important issues in various regions, he has always reiterated and projected a “two-way” approach in foreign relations where the country “will seek friendship and alliances” considering US interest as paramount. Apparently, aside from economic disintegration with the world, Trump seems also trying to ‘disintegrate’ American military.
“For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own,” said President Trump. His stance may be within the context of proposals in eliminating ‘free riding’ of countries dependent on US economy and security commitments, however, it is also strategically detrimental for the country.
Despite his protectionist stance, Trump’s position of ‘not imposing western values and institutions but shining as an example’ is seen as promising for the international community. For other global competitors China and Russia, this is an opportunity for filling in the gap the U.S. is emptying. U.S. withdrawal from TPP could leave China a strong position in replacing U.S. role in Asia-Pacific. On one side, this can be used by China to justify its position in the South China Sea and the region as a whole.
Economic and military partnerships are main indicators of strong alliances with other countries. It has been utilized as a tool by big economies in influencing domestic policies and politics as well as a protection mechanism by smaller countries. U.S. withdrawal could open the possibility of disorder as well as doubts on U.S. cooperation with its allies in countering growing threats.
In the case of the South China Sea dispute where the International Tribunal has favored the Philippines over the territorial conflict where some Southeast Asian countries are party, the US withdrawing from TPP is an indication of lessening support for the claims of these smaller countries. Eventually, this is strategically beneficial for China in asserting claims. That is because solving an international conflict requires rallying the support of the international community. With a ‘disunited’ international community, it cannot force a certain country or international player from stopping it’s over expanding actions. While yet the US is looked as ‘global policeman’, it is beneficial for all parties for US to maintain a status quo since things are becoming unpredictable. Until smaller countries are equipped with the capacity to defend its national security and balance against competing regional threat, the US is highly looked unto for protection.
But, what do US allies think about Trumps’ policies? The Philippines, which the US has long maintained a standing partnership for decades economically and militarily, just doesn’t care under President Rodrigo Duterte who has had negative reserves against the West. With President Duterte setting aside the historic ruling of the International Tribunal Court invalidating the 9-dash claim of China over the South China Sea which is strongly supported by US under then President Barack Obama, the Philippines presents itself ‘unfriendly’ with the United States and ‘friendly’ towards China. Duterte’s shift of policy is welcomed by China but a US under President Trump is yet to take a stance. However, recently, over the issue of nuclear threat of North Korea, President Trump asked President Duterte to step up and ask his ‘friend’ in China, President Xi Jinping, to put more pressure on DPRK’s nuclear threat. At the end, the US may still need its US allies over certain circumstances.
On the other hand, the U.S. has firmly taken a position towards North Korea’s provocative actions and nuclear ambitions. While the possibility of a war in the Korean peninsula is foreseeable, it is unclear who will fight and how it is going to be fought. But, one thing is surely visible is it is the fight of the two great powers, China behind North Korea and the US behind South Korea. Thus, the importance of maintaining US alliance with South Korea and Japan who are parties in this region.
“We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions,” promised President Trump as a testimony of pursuing innovation in science and technology towards boosting a national pride among the Americans. This could be his applauded policy of ‘not imposing’ Western values or institutions on anyone.
Nevertheless, a visionary ‘protectionist’ Trump presidency may either bring a new order in the international system or the status quo will remain for the next few years to come. It can create new things and can undo past things. But high hopes that this will come for the best and common interest of the global community.
“It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.”#
 Logan, J. (2013). China, America, and the Pivot to Asia. Published on January 8, 2013 in Policy Analysis. Cato Institute, Washington DC, United States.
 Weickgenant, J. (2017). America’s Role in the World. Published on January 31, 2017 as part of special RCW series by RealClearWorld. Retrieved from http://www.realclearworld.com.
 Tziamalis, A. (2017). What is protectionism and could it benefit the U.S. economy? Published on March 2, 2017 on U.S. News. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com.
 Meltzer, J. & Solis, M. (2017). Protectionist pain: Trump’s trade stance harms US interests. Published on January 24, 2017 on The Hill. Retrieved from http://thehill.com.
 Meltzer, J. & Solis, M. (2017). Protectionist pain: Trump’s trade stance harms US interests. Published on January 24, 2017 on The Hill. Retrieved from http://thehill.com.
(This articles was submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirement in my subject, Foreign Policy Analysis.)