Donald Trump’s rose to the Presidency on the wings of a single premise: that America is no longer a superpower. According to him, there are many culprits for this downfall. NATO allies are guilty because they don’t contribute to the mutual defense fund and are using US military as a shield. Mexicans are guilty because they steal American jobs. Above all else, President Obama is guilty of failing to prevent all this and now it has fallen to Mr. Trump to make America great again. His voters believed this and President Trump was sworn into Oval Office.
Once there, he discovered that international politics aren’t as simple as he portraited them to be. With Chinese economy on the fast track, constant challenges in the Middle East, Russia flexing its muscles in Ukraine and Eastern Mediterranean, Mr. Trump and his ever-changing team found themselves in the deep end of the pool.
Iran deal, signed between P5+1 group (US, UK, Russia, China, France, and Germany) and Iran, has been one of the favorite Mr. Trump’s targets. The agreement allowed Tehran to return to the international markets, in return for giving up its nuclear program and has left Israel as the sole nuclear power in the region. President Obama, who signed the deal, has stated that it was the best solution at the moment and that the only other option of stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons was another war. In line with his Asia Pivot policy, he wanted to detangle the US from the Middle East, thus recognizing that Iraq war was a strategic failure. When he withdraw US troops from Iraq – a move heavily criticized by American allies in the region, Israel, and Saudi Arabia – the newly-created vacuum was quickly filled by ISIS.
This has opened up an opportunity for Russia to step in and offer Syria its help in “fighting terrorists” by deploying a substantial military force and creating a narrative that it is still a major player in the international arena. Combined with the annexation of Crimean Peninsula and heavy support of the rebels in Eastern Ukraine, (and short and decisive war with Georgia in 2008) it would seem that Vladimir Putin is well on his way of restoring at least some of the international power the Soviet Union wielded in its heyday. His “unholy alliance” with Turkey and Iran has managed to keep Bashar al-Assad in power in Syria, while the US was content with providing support for their Kurdish allies.
Another flashpoint of international politics, North Korea, has managed to obtain nuclear weapons, despite the constant threats by the US and Japan. This has forced America to increase its military presence in the region and seek deeper collaboration with Japan and South Korea.
When President Trump took power in January of 2017, one of his first moves was the cancelation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). With the appointment of Jared Kushner as the special envoy for the Arab-Israeli peace process and the recognition of the Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and a steep increase in drone attacks in the region, it seemed that he is abandoning Asia Pivot strategy set by his predecessor and focusing on the Middle East. He also signed a bill introducing sanctions against Russia for its intervention in Ukraine, a move that caused Kremlin to expel 755 members of the US embassy in Moscow. President Trump threatened on several occasions to withdraw from Iranian deal and has given its European allies till May 12th to fix it.
His first address to the United Nations Assembly was marked by threats to North Korea, in response to Pyongyang ballistic tests. He also ordered the deployment of THAAD missile defense system in South Korea and B1 bombers patrols in the region.
The long-awaited response to the trade deficit with China and theft of intellectual property right (estimated at $300 billion) came in April 2018 in the form of 25% tariffs on 1,333 Chinese imports. Beijing retaliated by imposing similar taxes on US food exports and Washington is currently developing a second round of import fees aimed at Chinese merchandise.
Mr. Trump’s military budget reflects his nationalistic views and his campaign promise of self-reliance. It is the largest ever military budget in history at $700 billion and yet some experts claim that it won’t be enough. His National Security Strategy identifies China, Russia, and Iran as direct threats to the American security and that return to “principled realism” is the only possible answer. Paradoxically, President Trump’s policy of America First will lead to increase interventionism in trade, which will hamper the international commerce system, which is vital for America’s own economic prosperity.
Therefore, it is far more likely that the US, in future, will rely more on both NATO and strategic partnership with India, Japan, and Australia in order to curb Chinese expansion in Asia, despite his campaign promises.