A new world is born with Trump's foreign policy and the UK is left behind

On some areas of geopolitics the UK is now out of step with the new White House, particularly when it comes to Russia's role in Syria 

Kim Sengupta
Wednesday 09 November 2016 15:50
The US Preident-elect has worried Eastern Europeans by his acceptance of Russia's annexation of Crimea
The US Preident-elect has worried Eastern Europeans by his acceptance of Russia's annexation of Crimea

It has been a paradox of the US election that Donald Trump, the right-wing populist, was seen as a dove on foreign and defence policy while Hillary Clinton, the liberal sophisticate, was regarded as a hawk.

There has been alarm at Mr Trump’s seeming incomprehension about nuclear deterrence and threat to carpet bomb “terrorists”, but the Republican candidate had also proposed to defuse international tension over Syria and Ukraine by holding talks and pledged that there will not be any more military missions like Iraq and Afghanistan. “We are” he declared “getting out of the business of nation building.”

Ms Clinton backed the Iraq invasion and has advocated military action in Syria ranging from arming the rebels against the Assad regime to setting up a “no-fly zone”. President Barack Obama had dismissed both plans and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned “for us to control all of the air space in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia.”

Putin: Russia ready to restore US relations after Trump win

There was animus of an almost personal nature between Ms Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin. She had described him as a “bully” out to grab all he can, someone who “was a KGB agent. So by definition he doesn’t have a soul”. The Russian leader’s response was “I think at a minimum it’s important for a government leader to have a brain.” Ms Clinton wrote a private memo to President Obama towards the end of her time as Secretary of State about Mr Putin urging “Don’t appear too eager to work together. Don’t flatter Putin with high-level attention. Decline his invitation for a presidential summit.” President Obama ignored the advice.

But it is not just about Mr Putin. Beijing, despite Mr Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Chinese goods, stressed its wish to work with the new president after the result came through. The Indian premier Narendra Modi was just behind the Russian government in offering his congratulations. We may be seeing the shaping of a new world order where the US no longer revels in its role as the only global superpower.

Governments in Western Europe also sent their good wishes, but the overwhelming feeling among the leadership in the European Union was one of shock at what had unfolded. In Eastern Europe there was also trepidation, the new president had said he accepted the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and had warned that, under him, the US would not necessarily intervene in a conflict between the Baltic states and Russia.

The Trump presidency may seem like very good news for Brexit Britain. He had, after all, praised the referendum vote to leave the EU. The UK should not now be at the back of the queue for a trade deal with the US as Barack Obama had warned. But in reality, although the new administration may be more sympathetic towards the UK’s economic needs, the place in the queue will depend on the pace of Brexit negotiations.

On some areas of geopolitics, the UK will be out of step with the new White House. Prime Minister Theresa May wants to take the lead role in sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, something the Obama administration has encouraged. London was seen as being a staunch voice for the punitive measures when some other European states were wavering. It is highly unlikely that Mr Trump would press for this confrontation with Moscow to be ratcheted up. Similarly, demands by Boris Johnson and some MPs for military action against Syria's Assad regime and Russia over the bombing of Aleppo is hardly going to get a favourable response in Mr Trump’s Washington.

Some Israeli leaders welcomed the election result, with Ron Prosor the former Israeli ambassador saying it spelled “the end of political correctness” on the issue of Palestine. Relations between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu have been acrimonious, but Mr Trump, while voicing support, has also caused consternation in the Jewish state by saying he would remain “neutral” in any peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He has, like other Republicans, castigated President Obama for agreeing to the nuclear deal with Iran, but rowed back from saying he would seek to scrap it.

Israel, in any event, has been seeking new alliances. Mr Netanyahu noted this week that his government was further strengthening bilateral relations with Russia and India and economic ties with China.

China has been a particular target for Mr Trump during the election campaign, with him charging that its membership of the World Trade Organisation is the “worst jobs theft in history” and has demanded that trade agreements are renegotiated. He has threatened retaliation for intellectual copyright theft and to crack down on hacking.

But the Chinese own $1.268 trillion (£1.02 trillion) in US Treasury securities and there is a view among the leadership in Beijing that Mr Trump is bluffing over his threat to impose tariffs. His win also effectively kills off Mr Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, which the Chinese saw as an attempt to contain its influence in its “near seas”. So the official Chinese reaction to the election result has, so far, been relatively emollient.

Mr Trump made no mention of building a wall in his victory speech, but along with illegal immigration, Mexico, too, has been accused of stealing American jobs by the Republican nominee. He has threatened to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement which has been a cornerstone of Mexican economic policy since its inception in 1994. The election result led to the Peso suffering its biggest fall in 22 years and massive stock market turbulence.

So far, the most immediate international effect from the extraordinary triumph of Donald Trump is being felt by one of America’s closest neighbours.

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