US President-elect Donald Trump’s riveting interview with Times (UK) and Bild (Germany) just days ahead of his inauguration on January 20 brings to mind the old Arab proverb, “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”
The “lame duck” Barack Obama administration’s diligent attempt through recent weeks to create shackles tying down Trump on multiple fronts on the foreign policy arena seems destined to end up as a futile exercise.
Trump reiterated during the interview that the corner stones of his foreign-policy agenda remain intact.
Somewhere toward the end of the interview, Trump disclosed that hardly three months into his presidential campaign, it had dawned on him that those three months in politics were in reality pitted against 236 years, which was what the combined experience of his 17 Republican rivals in the presidential race totaled on a work scale.
Trump takes immense pride in his “natural ability,” which eventually turned out to be more important than those 17 veterans’ combined “experience.”
Trump gives a disarming explanation for this “natural ability” – his flair for deal-making. Trump explains: “I… think negotiation is a natural trait… you either have it or you don’t, you get better at it but basically, the people that I know who are great negotiators or great salesmen or great politicians, it’s very natural, very natural.”
This is quintessentially what distinguishes Trump from Obama. Trump says, “Well, I don’t like heroes, I don’t like the concept of heroes.” So, the White House is for him “a very nice place” alright, but, while Obama seems reluctant to leave the nice place and move on, he would rather think of it as a work place to do a job.
No legacy issue here, no agonizing over presidential legacy (or the lack of it.) Trump is intensely conscious that “I won the election because of strong borders and trade.” And his Scottish mother and German father prepared him for it.
He says: “Well, the Scottish are known for watching their pennies, so I like to watch my pennies — I mean I deal in big pennies, that’s the problem… I like order. I like things done in an orderly manner. And certainly the Germans, that’s something that they’re rather well known for. But I do, I like order and I like strength.”
How does it all add up as world view?
To be sure, Trump has no problem with national identity. “If people don’t want to have other people coming in and destroying their country,” he understands that perfectly well.
Thus, he sees Brexit as “a great thing” and anticipates that other countries in Europe are going to emulate Britain’s example.
But he wouldn’t try to save the European Union, which in any case has been a platform competing with the US in trade. He is also indifferent toward the fate of euro.
Unlike Obama, Trump is unemotional about Angela Merkel’s re-election as German Chancellor in the October elections.
As for NATO, Trump disparagingly refers to it as “obsolete.” He insists that member countries must make budgetary contributions and the alliance must reorient its mission. Trump doesn’t seem to visualize see the alliance’s expansion toward Russia’s borders as its raison d’etre.
Indeed, Trump will have a strong immigration policy and one of the first things he will be doing on the Monday following his inauguration on coming Friday will be to impose “strong vetting” on people entering the US from “various parts of the world that have terrorism problems.”
He came down heavily on Merkel for her “very catastrophic mistake” of “taking all those illegals… from wherever they came from.” The Syrian refugees could have been led into “safe zones”, with the Arab Sheikhs who’ve “got money that nobody has” funding it.
On the hugely controversial issue of Russia ties, Trump still says he’d explore whether “we can make some good deals.” Russia is reeling under western sanctions, which provides scope for deal-making in a win-win spirit that could benefit all sides.
Unsurprisingly, Trump was forceful on trade policies:
Germany is a great country, great manufacturing country — you go down Fifth Avenue everybody has a Mercedes-Benz in front of their building, right — the fact is that it’s been very unfair to the US, it’s not a two-way street. How many Chevrolets do you see in Germany? Maybe none — not too many — how many — you don’t see anything over there — it’s a one-way street — it’s gotta be a two-way street — I want it to be fair but it’s gotta be a two-way street and that’s why we’re losing almost US$800, think of it, US$800 billion a year in trade so that will stop… most of it is China ’cause China is a tremendous problem.
Trump exudes confidence that his agenda will have great resonance in the US domestic opinion. Therefore, he remains nonchalant about the foreign-policy elites’ sniping.
Did the Obama administration recklessly push the envelope? Only one side can win here and it cannot be Trump who loses. Unless the CIA summarily destroys Trump’s political career, he can be trusted to take apart the spy agency for having plotted to malign him.
In National Security Advisor-designate Gen. Michael Flynn, a former chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency, he has someone who knows the CIA’s working.
Trump alluded to the ex-MI6 spy Christopher Steele who reportedly prepared the dossier on his alleged escapades in Russia. Trump does not believe Steele acted as a free agent or that he was acting for the Democrats or the Republican Party. He threatened: “if this guy is a British guy you got a lot of problems”.
In the final analysis, the opinions aired by Trump’s nominees for cabinet posts during recent senate hearings far from reflect the thinking of the president-elect.
The foreign policies will ultimately hinge on the judgments of the POTUS and the interview last week reveals that Trump has a mind of his own and all the brouhaha in recent weeks aimed at debunking him, calling into question the legitimacy of his election victory, may have only steeled his resolve.