Sailing stormy waters with an erratic hand at the helm

71381-004-534732c4

Looking around the globe these days, I’m worried.

I’m worried that we are entering what is likely to be the most dangerous, unstable era in international relations in the last 80 years. And yes, it’s worth noting that 75 years ago today, that previous era of instability culminated in the attack on Pearl Harbor that pushed us into a second world war.

The stable, international order constructed in the wake of that war has begun to crumble.  Globalism has lost favor; the forces of nationalism are rising. Confidence in national and global institutions is collapsing, and as that confidence erodes, people around the world have begun to put their faith and confidence in leaders of another sort, leaders less interested in values such as compromise and negotiation and integration, and who promise strength through confrontation and isolation and separation.

We have witnessed this sentiment bubbling up around the world for several years now. In western Europe, in eastern Europe, in places such as Poland and Hungary. In the cult of personality built around Vladimir Putin in Russia. In the Philippines, with the election of strongman Rodrigo Duterte. The rise of fundamentalist Islam. The rise of authoritarian leadership in Turkey, where democracy is fading quickly. In China, with an assertive and increasingly nationalistic leadership. In the Brexit vote.  Most recently in the vote in Italy, and the widespread disenchantment with the European Union.

We’ve seen it, unfortunately, in the results of last month’s election here in the United States as well.

As history reminds us, the danger comes when these competing expressions of nationalism begin to bump up against each other, say in the South China Sea, or the Korean Peninsula, or in Ukraine or the Baltic States. Or these days, on Twitter. When passions get high, when tensions rise, an already existing atmosphere of nationalism can make it difficult for politicians to avoid confrontation and walk away and find some more peaceful way to settle disputes.

But wait, it gets worse. Not only do we find ourselves in the most dangerous era in international relations in the past 80 years, we have elected a president to lead us through these challenges who has little or no experience in foreign policy, a leader driven more by instinct than by careful consideration, and a leader who is fully in sync with the larger trends going on around the world and is more likely to compound them than mitigate them.

In times that require experience, judgment, a cool head, an ability to assess things calmly, to build trust and to build relationships, I fear those attributes are going to be in short supply. That is true not only of our president-elect, but of many of the people with whom he has surrounded himself. During the campaign, Donald Trump talked at times as if he rejected the neo-con approach to foreign policy that dominated the presidency of George W. Bush and led us into Iraq. However, to the degree that his true intentions and outlook can be determined by his personnel choices, he is in the process of populating his administration with people who make Dick Cheney look like Colin Powell.

It’s still a month and a half until inauguration, and they are already picking a very public fight with China. They are committed to a far more aggressive stance toward Iran. They have signaled to Russia, which intervened in this election on Trump’s behalf, that the price of adventurism has dropped significantly. And the transition process itself is looking like an amateur hour, or as a former deputy CIA director called it this week, a clown show.

Trump has reportedly skipped several if not more of the daily intelligence briefings that every president-elect receives. As of Monday, he has yet to receive any briefing at all from the State Department professionals, whom he and his staff reportedly hold in low esteem anyway. His phone calls with foreign leaders — again, without input or even monitoring from diplomatic professionals — have at times bordered on the bizarre.

If you were looking for a single animating philosophy behind the Trump foreign policy, it’s probably the belief that the United States has been played for a sucker by its international partners. That’s his attitude toward the Iran nuclear deal, and to our military alliances as well. It’s true also about trade deals with Mexico and other countries, including the Trans Pacific Partnership.  It’s hard to point to any international commitment, agreement or alliance that Trump has fully embraced or endorsed.

The idea that we Americans are the patsy of the international world and global system is more than a little ironic, given that we designed the system, we lead the system, we dominate the system. The international system created in the aftermath of World War II is to a large degree the American system, and other countries no doubt find the notion that America is the victim of all this both confusing and very very worrisome.

And here’s the important part, the part that has me worried the most. We live in and benefit from the American system not just because we have the world’s strongest economy and the biggest military. Those are very important, to be sure, but they alone do not explain the extent of our global influence. That influence has grown because for the most part, we have been predictable and we have been dependable.

I don’t believe that we are viewed that way anymore.  Merely by electing Trump, we have damaged our credibility as the essential nation, the nation that is trustworthy because it is immune to the occasional case of the crazies. The erratic, confrontational operating style that Trump is already employing is only going to accelerate that loss of credibility, and once lost that reputation cannot be easily recovered.

If I were living in Latvia or Estonia or even Poland, I would have serious concerns today about whether I could depend upon the assistance of America and NATO’s Article Five, which requires mutual self defense.  If I were India or Vietnam, I’m not sure I would be willing to bet my nation’s economic future on ties to the United States.

On the other hand, if I were Putin in Russia, I would see opportunity that ought to be tested.  If I were China, I would likewise see opportunity in our abandonment of the Trans Pacific Partnership, which many countries in Asia no doubt see as an American rejection of closer trade and economic cooperation with the nations of that region. And the nature of such things is that nations that feel spurned by one major power will naturally seek alignment with another.

So everything is up in the air.  American leadership is up in the air. The future of post-war international institutions is up in the air.  Nationalism is surging. Relationships are changing. Alliances that once seemed permanent are now questioned. Most of the slack within the system has disappeared, replaced by tension. And when I look to the places where we would normally look for leadership to guide us through these fraught times, I instead see people who don’t appear to understand this moment in history, who seem excited and exhilarated by the chance to dabble with big things that they do not comprehend and cannot hope to control once they begin to spiral toward trouble.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

1055 comments
Brian Krebs
Brian Krebs

Too late Bookman we have already done that the last 8 years.

John Wood
John Wood

Jay obviously is a liberal with a crybaby mental block!!!

Winky Jones
Winky Jones

Book man you must be President of the Alt-Left, go get a diaper change...

Maudie Hope
Maudie Hope

Crawl back in your hole bookman and trying coming out again "Ground hog" day??

Christine Riddell
Christine Riddell

The last 24 years have been a total disaster in this country. We are on are back.

Sam33
Sam33

Obama didnt divide us, all the hateful people in this country did. the same hateful people went and voted for him, putting him in office in a couple of weeks. unfortunately we get to lay in the ugly , uncomfortable bed thats been made. 


he's not even in office yet and he's lying and deceiving us.  its gonna get ugly fast. 

juvenal
juvenal

@Sam33 i hate it that the cartels are killing us......

Phillip Parrish
Phillip Parrish

I'd be more concerned about the dangerous unstable era in international relations that began 8 years ago.

Steven Oliver
Steven Oliver

Bookman needs a sanctuary with beast feeding and diaper service.

Summer Smith
Summer Smith

Just more fear-mongering by this hack Bookman and the AJC

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Barbara Boxer is resigning?

Way overdue. She won't be missed.

Dianne Feinstein, on the other hand, will be missed by me when she resigns. 

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@FIGMO2

That's quite possibly the first time I have ever heard you say a positive thing about a fellow female, felicia. Progress!!!

Brenda B. White
Brenda B. White

Excellent piece Jay; My grandchildren's future seems much more perilous than it did before November 8 \U0001f622

Summer Smith
Summer Smith

Get a grip on yourself and quit being brain washed by this tabloid new outlet.

rimsky
rimsky

 Half an hour after Trump tweeted about Jones on Wednesday, the union leader's phone began to ring and kept ringing, he said. One voice asked: What kind of car do you drive? Another said: We’re coming for you.

He wasn’t sure how these people found his number. 

“Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids,” Jones said later on MSNBC. “We know what car you drive. Things along those lines.”

Classy Chump supporters.

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

its a shame..and Trump plays stupid when called on his rhetoric

BinderLady
BinderLady

So, Time magazine this week named Donald Trump Person of the Year. But they did so with a headline that read, “President of the Divided States of America.”

In an interview with the Today show Trump huffed, “When you say divided states of America, I didn’t divide them. They’re divided now.” He added later, “I think putting divided is snarky, but again, it’s divided. I’m not president yet. So I didn’t do anything to divide.”

Donald, thy name is division. You and your campaign of toxicity and intolerance have not only divided this country but also ripped it to tatters. This comports with an extremely disturbing tendency of Trump’s: Denying responsibility for things of which he is fully culpable, while claiming full praise for things in which he was only partly involved. As my mother used to say: Don’t try to throw a rock and hide your hand. Own your odiousness.

But Trump delivered the lie with an ease and innocuousness that bespoke a childish innocence and naïveté. In fact, his words disguised cold calculation.

That is the thing about demagogy: It can be charming, even dazzling, and that is what makes it all the more dangerous.

Trump is running two post-campaign campaigns: one high and one low, one of frivolity and one of enormous consequence.One is a campaign of bread and circuses — tweets, rallies, bombast about random issues of the moment, all meant to distract and excite — and the other is the constant assemblage of a cabinet full of fat cats and “mad dog” generals, a virtual aviary of vultures and hawks. I feel like America is being flashed by a giant neuralyzer, à la “Men In Black.” We are in danger of forgetting what has happened and losing sight, in the fog of confusion and concealment, of the profundity of the menace taking shape right before us.

That is our challenge: To see clearly what this deceiver wants to obscure; to be resolute about that to which he wants us to be resigned; to understand that Time’s man of the year is, by words and deeds, more of a madman of the year.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@BinderLady If you deny truth and lead with the premise Trump is a divider and deceiver you are setting yourself up to get crushed, politically. Self-fulfilling prophecy, so to speak.

Philo_Farnsworth
Philo_Farnsworth

Obama is divisive.

Trump was right, the country was divided before he showed up.

honested
honested

@DawgDadII @BinderLady 

Since you blame the world's problems on non-existent Sochullllizt threats, I can see why you are confused.

skydog12
skydog12

@SFM_Scootter @Nick_Danger @BinderLady


The Cleveland Browns haven`t played their Sunday game yet.

They are a terrible team with very little talent and bad coaches. Their ownership is the worst in the NFL as dictated by their record the past 6 years.


Maybe they will win this week. I`ll wait and see.

Point being, if it looks like dog shyte and smells like dog shyte, it most likely IS dog shyte.

Philo_Farnsworth
Philo_Farnsworth

Trump proved a better candidate than Hillary.

Dem's fault for nominating her.

juvenal
juvenal

@BinderLady lots more foks on bread than 8 years ago.......maybe partition would be peaceful this time, if Kalifornia wants to leave....

lvg
lvg

""""Paula Broadwell, the biographer of David Petraeus who had a much-publicized affair with the now-retired four-star general, said it was a “shocker” for her to learn that her former lover would be a candidate for a cabinet post in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.

She also said Petraeus, who resigned as director of the CIA in 2012 after his affair with Broadwell became public, is “unequally qualified for many positions.” Petraeus pleaded guilty in 2015 to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials after admitting that he provided such materials to Broadwell.

In a pre-taped interview with CBS’s Norah O’Donnell that's set to air Thursday, Broadwell questioned the fairness of Petraeus being given another chance while she has been unable to escape her affair."""


From Politico


Can't wait for the tell all book.

honested
honested

@lvg 

Whether qualified or not, in chumpland, betray-us is 'loyal'.

gadem
gadem

@lvg well see....white men have this thing called Privilege. They can do a lot of things that women and men from other races can not do. Take Donald for example....imagine if PBO had three baby mamas, or cyber bullied, or constantly lied, or aligned himself with a hate organization....the right would go ballistic.

juvenal
juvenal

@lvg guess she would know.....did that book sell?

CherokeeCounty
CherokeeCounty

@KUTGF

Yeah - and this man child is going to be the leader of the free world - the guy who gets into a tweet storm with a union guy in Indiana who has had the audacity to point out the truth.


Putin - and any other foreign leader for that matter - are going to play this buffoon like a drum.

gadem
gadem

@KUTGF @CherokeeCounty it's sad that normally people look back a few years down the road and shake their head....people are literally doing that now.

honested
honested

RIP Gregg Lake......


If I were Carl Palmer, it would be off to the Doctor!

James Millaway
James Millaway

You sir ,have no idea what world diplomacy involves.

James McCallion
James McCallion

At it again Bookman? Go get a job with Hillary, if you can find her!

lvg
lvg

Very telling that yesterday on Pearl Harbor Day both Jay and Wingfield condemned the Orange Clown for his inept handling of foreign policy and international trade. The same blinders that GOP had on about German aggression before Pearl Harbor is now making them blind to the Putin loving actions o f the  Neo fascist elect who  also  wants to sick "Mad Dog" on ISIS and Iran while provoking China and its ally, North Korea. Who embargoed Japan before Pearl Harbor?

juvenal
juvenal

@lvg who said Romney was retro for calling roosia out? who set the reset button? who let Crimea go without honoring our treaty with Ukraine? i'd worry about pootin too if i noticed a first strike gets 90% of the dems, looking at the election map......

Donnie_Pinko
Donnie_Pinko

@juvenal @lvg 

Who set the reset button?
Who restarted a cold war?
Who escalated tensions in the S China Sea?

Paul42
Paul42

@juvenal

juvenal, to what treaty are you referring?

I believe you may be mistaken.

juvenal
juvenal

@Paul42 @juvenal in the 90's, we agreed to guarantee the borders of Ukraine if they gave up their nukes....your memory a reflection of why it is stupid to make treaties with the USA.....