Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Trump's Realpolitik...Really?

April 5, New York Times:   "Mr. Trump has dispensed with what he considers pointless moralizing and preachy naïveté. He has taken foreign policy to its most realpolitik moment in generations, playing down issues of human rights or democracy that animated his predecessors...."

Donald Trump is certainly no Henry Kissinger, a genuine practitioner of realpolitik.

But... the idea that the Times uses that word to contrast it to "what [Trump] considers pointless moralizing and preachy naïveté," may reflect the paper's own preachy naïveté.  Who knows what Trump really thinks or believes.  But in this case, isn't it realistic to say that Assad is not leaving anytime soon and that there isn't much the U.S. can do about it? 

Does being the world's policeman bring with it a warrant for moral preaching, even moral bullying? Should he have bullied Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi about human rights or Chinese President Xi Jinping? If China proves effective in reining in North Korea's nuclear program won't that do more for human rights and life, than admonishing its leader about human rights abuses? Those aren't rhetorical question!


  1. Trump early on in the primaries put the Chinese on notice that he expected more cooperation on North Korea. I am sure the idea that he floated of replacing American forces in Japan and Korea with a nuclear armed Japan and Korea must have caused nightmares in China. I doubt if their military contingency planners had a plan for that.

    And the notion that there might be advantages in an alliance with Russia should not be rejected out of hand. We were allied with Stalin, and Putin for all his nastiness is not Stalin.

    Much of this appears to the businessman negotiator, your competitor today could be you business partner tomorrow and vice versa.

    We need to take the Trump uncertainty opportunity to rethink a lot of our priorities around the world rather than be held hostage to reacting to his latest "negotiation of the moment" which of course could be nothing but public relations.

  2. The NYT use of Realpolitik in that context leads me to think the word can now match "awesome" for meaninglessness. Almost everything Comrade Trump says is negotiable if it isn't self-contradictory, and he doesn't necessarily believe any of it America's propensity for Wilsonian moralizing -- which was semi-institutionalized by Jimmy Carter -- probably will go on hiatus for awhile. Moralizing would sound unmanly in a groper's world. But it is not hypothetically impossible to stress human rights while practicing realpolitik; Bismark didn't start wars simply to be mean, and since his day, concepts of "soft power" have gained acceptance.

    Assad just made it harder for Comrade Trump to join him and Putin in eradicating the ever shrinking IS caliphate. But Assad blotted his copybook almost in tandem with Trump's meeting with Sisi, who will do what Assad did in the not unlikely case that Sisi considers it necessary.

    A moral bully is the only kind of bully I can think of that Trump can never be. Because of the adjective.

  3. "A moral bully is the only kind of bully I can think of that Trump can never be. Because of the adjective." Tom, LOL, true enough!
    I think it is probably best that Trump refrains from homiletics; because of a serious lack of credibility. It's unlikely that the Chinese or anyone else would listen to it anyway.
    For a bit of good news , Trump just took Bannon off the National Security Council. Why he was there in the first place is the question.

    1. Perhaps as important as the removal of Bannon from the NSC is the report that its head, McMaster, did it. Suggests, but does not prove, that he has acquired sufficient authority to undo early damage created by Flynn and/or Trump.

    2. Parsing "moral bully": Can one bully for immoral as well as moral purposes? For example, when Trump threatened Freedom Caucus members with primary elections opponents was he "bullying" them. Was his purpose "moral"--getting them to support his policies as president, or was it "immoral" threatening members of his "own" party?

  4. About Trump threatening the Freedom Caucus, is a bully bullying bullies still bullying? Or is it just politics? To me it is the seamier side of political sausage making, they are all the agents, not the victims of bullying. The victims are those threatened with losing their health coverage or their food security.

  5. Just went to review my understanding of terms: Realpolitik = a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations.

    This suggests to me that the NYT believes Trump has some overarching "practical" foreign policy strategy that furthers the well-being of the nation, rather than seeks to impose moral or ideological values on other countries, i.e., "[Trump's] America First approach focuses not on how other nations treat their people but on what they can do for the United States."

    I have to say that Trump's foreign policy strategy escapes me, and the NYT gives him too much credit for having anything that looks like one.

    What kind of strategy do these developments add up to: Trump calls up Taiwan in some kind of vague friendly gesture and upsets China, invites China to the U.S. for a state visit in hopes of reining in North Korea; he tells Angela Merkel to pay up her NATO account, and reassures Theresa May that he is fully committed to NATO and that Brexit will be great; he threatens President Pena Nieto about his "bad hombres"; he tweets that Egypt and the U.S. are going to be great friends after after al-Sisi's visit; and he and blames the Syrian poisonings on the "weaknesses" of the Obama administration's policy. I don't know. Perhaps the key to what Trump's foreign policy might be will be his response to situation in Syria.

    The Brookings Institute articulated what appeared to be Trump's foreign policy ideas back in January. I thought theirs was a good analysis of what seems to be Trump's thinking:

    1. Excellent analysis by Brookings. Seems like they dug down to the bedrock, although their seven points don't really predict the mercurial man. Earlier this week, Rex Tillerson said, presumably with Comrade Trump's OK,that Assad can stick around in a settlement. Yesterday, Trump was shocked, shocked!, at pictures of the results of Assad doing what -- if Trump would read his intelligence -- the POTUS should know Assad has done before ad will do again. The way Trump talked, attacking children is a personal attack on Trump, and evil doers must therefore be punished.

      One would have expected Trump to respect tough guy Assad the way he respects tough guy Putin. But then he sees some pictures, and your expectation has to change.

      Instead of government we had a stage
      Instead of ideas, a prima donna's rage
      Instead of help we were given a crowd
      She/He didn't say much, but she said it loud

  6. I am a minority of one among my near and dear interlocutors: gas/chemical attack, who, when, where, why? Big headlines that Assad's air force did it. Let's have an international investigation before the headlines start WWIII.

    1. That would be the realpolitik move; enlist the aid of other outraged countries and try to remonstrate with Putin with offers of rewards and threats of punishments through a back channel. But WaPo says Trump is mulling military action, urged on by congressional hawks like McCain.

      I cannot look into Trump's soul here, but the spectacle of poisoned children may be less motivating than appearing weak, which doesn't fit into Trump's emerging brand as President Trump, Fearless Leader.

      Moreover, Trump has blamed Obama's weakness for the current incident, which, if he wants to maintain that me-good/Obama-bad narrative means he has to take the "strong" position and take out Assad's air force at the very least.

      See an emerging theme? It's all about posturing, and not even posturing as a nation as Reagan did, but posturing as the Fearless Leader that Trump is establishing as his brand and trademark.

      In reading the news reports today, I don't think Trump has used the first person plural to talk about what WE need to do, only what is bothering HIM and what HE wants to do.

    2. Trump is quoted that "...something needs to happen to Assad." I'm not going to say that he's wrong about that, but if we initiate military action on our own, and do manage to take him out, what comes next? Is it another Iraq? And how much do the Russians want to keep Assad in power? If they could be convinced that he needs to go, that would probably be the best case scenario.

    3. Who and What would replace Assad? I have thought that is one factor in Obama's not going after him.

      What are the choices now after all that has gone on? Presumably his allies in the government are members of his own "tribe." One of them?

      When Qaddafi fell in Libya all hell broke loose and still is.

  7. ... and the missiles are in the air! Wonder if the Russians are going to take this lying down.