Whilst his polls don’t look good, the prospect of what American foreign policy would look like unlike a second term Trump Presidency are worth taking seriously. A recent Economist analysis of a selection of polling – with lots of accounting for errors and learnings from the 2016 election – gave Trump a 20% chance of winning another four years. With less than three weeks till the election the prospect of a major October surprise is diminishing but nothing is ever certain in US politics.
A 2 in 10 chance of winning is still a chance and its worth being prepared for what Trump 2.0 administration would look like abroad. If Covid-19 has been an accelerator of existing global trends then we can logically imagine that a Trump second term would have similar themes as his first term but with even less checks and balances. A Trump vindicated by an election win would likely pursue his vendetta against multilateral institutions; whether that be a further downgrading of US support to the United Nations, hammering away at NATO members who are seen to be paying their share and supporting populist leaders in Europe who see a future out of the EU.
Where a second term Trump administration may diverge most significantly from its current course could be with relations with China. Such is the incredible economic interdependence between the two countries that the souring of ties linking to COVID-19 and the use of incendiary rhetoric in the Trump election campaign, could likely quieten if Trump is returned to the White House and looks to restore stability to the economy.
In the Middle East Trump could feel less constrained than ever when it comes to his push for the full withdrawal of US forces from Syria and Iraq. Likewise, Afghanistan could see a more abrupt shift in US foreign policy as Trump tires of a slowly slowly approach of exiting the country and orders a more comprehensive withdrawal. Indeed, the fact that Taliban representatives have supposedly ‘endorsed’ Trump for President speaks to this scenario.
In recent months the Trump administration has secured rare diplomatic successes in bringing a UAE-Israel peace deal into play, could a second term Presidency look to keep along the path of bringing its own allies together in the Gulf? Already there is much speculation as to change in the status of Israeli-Saudi relations. Meanwhile will the Palestinian leadership feel that it has to wait out the next four years and hope that annexation remains off the table.
The issues of paramount concern for global peace could come in the form of the US policy to Iran and North Korea. Whilst Trump has put huge political capital into his ability to bring peace to the Korean peninsula, he’s not managed to move things in a particularly strategic or sustainable direction. If his patience runs out or North Korea decides to humiliate US efforts through weapons testing or other acts of strength it could force Trump to make a choice to double down or withdraw, each choice taking with it a host of unknown consequences.
Meanwhile it is Iran, for so long the single biggest target of the Trump administration’s ire, that would least welcome the prospect of a second term. Already squeezed by the US exiting and threatening to bring down the JCPOA, a host of sanctions and the US deploying military forces into its neighbourhood, Iran would be faced with the choice as to a more assertive push back against Washington or enduring another four tough years. With the Iranian economy hit hard by the double whammy of US hostility and COVID, a less predictable Tehran coming up against a resurgent and ‘unleashed’ Trump could quite easily escalate in ways few could imagine.
Over the past four years Trump has steadily shorn himself of senior appointments like General Mattis and Lt General McMaster, who have been considered ‘steady hands’ able to check and counterbalance some of Trump’s more impulsive tendencies. These characters are all gone, and Trump has found himself increasingly isolated. Yet an isolated President rejuvenated by the electoral mandate of a second term is an entirely different prospect that the one faced by the world when Trump was first elected. As America holds its breath to await November’s results, so does the world.
by : jamse danselow