The Skeptics

How Trump Might Recalibrate Western Foreign Policy

The “unthinkable” happened. The year that gave us Brexit and Filipino bandwagoning with China appropriately ended with Donald Trump being elected as the next President of the United States. I kept unthinkable within quote marks because none of the mainstream analysis predicted Trump’s win. It is of course important to avoid the trap of monocausality, as CNN listed a staggering twenty-four theories that are now being put forward to explain the rise and eventual win of Trump. While most of the theories presented are simplistic and socially linear and based on domestic variables and therefore extremely unlikely to explain such a complicated social phenomenon, it might certainly be true that all of them are equally, or in combination responsible for this result. However, that's for social scientists to analyze further.

The scope of this post is however, to assess the foreign policy implications of this momentous year, and to seek to understand if the post–Cold War order is indeed over, and if it is, what remains the most realistic way forward, not just for the United States, but the EU and the UK as well.

Some of the analysis remains implausible, even after the election, and it appears that a lot of them are drawing the wrong conclusions, and therefore falling into the same liberal loop that led to this outcome. There are cries of the end of the Western order, and that populists are out to destroy it from within, and therefore need to be resisted. There is panic on the European side as well. Questions are being raised on the competence of Trump and whether America is still the leader of the free world. There is outright indictment of Trump being an autocrat, and there are attempted causal understandings going as far as to make the case that Obama's “inaction” in Syria led to Trump.

The last interpretation especially cannot be further from the truth. There is a vast array of articles, mostly written by foreign policy realists (including yours truly) which highlight that it is a myth to claim that the United States didn't interfere in Syria. It is also patently untrue to deny that the destabilization of Libya, the constant interference in the Greater Middle East, and the destruction of the entire North African coastline and the resulting migration crisis is what led to this political backlash in Europe and United States. In fact, Pew surveys show that Americans, just as much as the majority of the Western public, wanted to do nothing in Syria and Libya.

The one thing that actually remains true, despite conventional wisdom, is that the Western public is extremely anti-interventionist and anti-immigration, and the ruling elites in the West on both sides of the Atlantic, remain woefully out of touch with the prevalent sentiment across their respective regions. In fact, a linear correlation can be drawn as to why the same people who supported Obama until 2012, turned and voted for Trump, and how much of Western interventionism post–Arab Spring and its material and psychological effects led to Brexit and beyond.