Trump vs. World, Round 2

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POLITICO

Trump vs. World, Round 2

When Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, Russian politicians literally broke out champagne. If Trump wins again, much of the rest of the authoritarian world could join in. “If he’s reelected, we’re going to see an acceleration of what we’ve experienced over the past four years,” says Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats.

In both word and deed, Trump has made no secret of his fondness for some of the world’s most notorious strongmen. “It’s funny, the relationships I have,” Trump told Bob Woodward earlier this year. “The tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them.”

Trump’s bromance with Russia’s Vladimir Putin was apparent even before he moved into the White House; it became clear fairly early on in his presidency that he felt kinship with authoritarians of all stripes. One of the highlights of his early months as president was his first foreign visit, which took him to Saudi Arabia, where he enthusiastically participated in a traditional sword dance.

The reception he received there left a strong impression. When Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman faced international outcry (and outrage in the U.S. Congress) over an operation to murder and dismember Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, an ardent critic of the regime, Trump stood up for his new friend the prince. “I saved his ass,” Trump went on to tell Woodward. Around the same time, Trump professed that he and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, the leader of one of the most repressive regimes on the planet, had fallen “in love.”

As dramatic as some of these predictions might seem, Americans shouldn’t expect Joe Biden to immediately do a 180 on U.S. foreign policy if he’s elected.

Foreign governments generally accept that there’s relatively little policy space between Republicans and Democrats on trade these days: You might see fewer tariffs and language more amenable to allies under Biden, but there are no easy trade deals anymore. And the United States is in retreat regardless of who wins the election, lacking the political will and the resources to be what James Crabtree, a professor at the National University of Singapore, calls “an all-round, all-weather superpower.”

Trump might continue to accelerate the trend, and Biden’s rhetoric on a range of issues would be sharply different, but a President Biden would also be tied up in domestic crises, starting with Covid-19 management and recovery.

A continued retreat comes with risks for both America and the world, however. The EU is doing heavy lifting on climate change and forging an independent course on China relations. Russia and Turkey are asserting themselves across the Middle East and North Africa. A growing China continues its massive global infrastructure and financing programs, and the U.N. Security Council is, largely, an irrelevance.

Even if America doesn’t get another four years of Donald Trump, Trumpism will have made a lasting impact on the world.


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