The Predictable Trump – Part IV: Foreign Policy

The outlines of Trump administration’s agenda on the foreign policy front are still emerging, and remain strongly contingent on a multiplicity of international factors and forces. Nevertheless, there exists a strong correlation between his domestic and foreign policy plans. Earlier I suggested that Trump aims to galvanize domestic support for his protectionist and nativist policies. I must add that he to seeks to further this aim through an escalation of the rhetorical war he wages against global powers such as China, and regional players like Iran. This high stakes game of brinksmanship will inevitably force other global players into forming new alliances. In turn, Trump will try to win these shifting alliances over to his side by guaranteeing the sovereignty of key regional players that already pursue political and economical agendas similar to his (such as England, Russia, Turkey, and India). Along the way, a number of important international players may succumb to popular waves of anti-establishment politics inspired by Trump’s success in the U.S. – and further cement the will and status of the neoliberal order. The establishments in Germany or France, for example, are increasingly vulnerable to their own popular waves of nativism and protectionism.[1] Others important players will likely be forced to toe the Trump line because of the one-to-one economic treatise that afford the U.S. a lopsided leverage over the economic terms of individual foreign relations.[2] The case in point is Shinzo Abe’s recent capitulation to the Trump game. After Trump threatened to hit the Japanese manufacturing sector with tariffs and trade laws, Abe was only quick to propose and sign over a $450 billion dollar package of new jobs and investments in the U.S. And the reason for this capitulation is not to simply secure American military protection against China’s plans for territorial expansion in the South China Sea (a guarantee which Trump pleaded immediately after securing Abe’s signature). More importantly, Abe must safeguard the interests of Japanese multi-nationals in the U.S. through keeping the U.S. consumer market afloat and loyal to the periled American state.

The shift in the established political plateaus will deal a strategic blow to China’s ability to further contest the American state’s global supremacy, and thereby only furthers the need for a discourse of war (and its massive market counterpart) and protectionism.[3] Of course, the hardliners in Beijing and Tehran will only take advantage of this war rhetoric to further consolidate their hold over the domestic and regional political and ideological scene – a response welcomed by the Trump administration. Military scholar Paul Virilio situates the import of escalating war rhetoric in setting the warring sides on military paths of no return. The sheer destructive power of modern war technology enforces the need for increasingly more capable weapons of counterattack and deterrence, and ultimately renders the success and leverage of all due political process dependent on the sheer excess and superiority of military might. Business will only thrive in the meantime, and not only because of the increasing import of the war industry. A military-political stalemate is the ultimate guarantor of the role of the state in the court of public opinion. Once engaged in wars of deterrence of such magnitude, the U.S. constituency will be forced into tacit support its government: another welcome possibility that justifies increased military expenditure and cuts to social programs and freedoms, in the name of the state of emergency necessitated by war.

In the meantime, the global markets will continue to do business as usual. Contrary to appearances, under the Trump administration globalization and neoliberalism will only rumble on. Multinational corporations will happily radicalize their existing labour and consumer strategies in markets heavily deregulated by state intervention and securely policed and protected by the security rhetoric of war on terror. Accordingly, unprecedented emphasis will be put on the threat of ‘radical Islam’ from the outside, and very soon, the threat of ‘radical activism’ on the inside.[4] But there is also a political surplus. As stated earlier, the new status quo will have tempered the biggest threat to neoliberalism at this juncture, that is, the threat of popular domestic revolts. The political and economic elite behind the rise of Trump[5] must have deemed Barack Obama’s alternative route of competing with China by way of the TTP and TTIP blocks a more risk prone strategy. Obama’s vision for the future of neoliberalism provided no reliable economic and ideological counter-narratives to the popular backlash against globalizing treaties. Moreover, the economic-block model encouraged countries left out of such treaties, such as the Philippines, to form strategic economic alliances with China. The other political surplus of the Trump plan, therefore, is a significant reduction of contingency on the foreign policy front. Without a crucial need for politico-military-economic blocks (e.g. EU, NATO), the current strategic and logistic costs and dependency of the U.S. on other countries’ individual and regional fates is significantly reduced.

In Trump’s alternative vision neoliberalism will further prevail – as will the multinationals – but as protected by administrations with ideological disguises from all over the political map.[6] Specifically speaking, the further expansion of globalization at this historical juncture is fatally tied to and premised on pacifying the domestic economic and ideological stage. The nativist agenda appeases the local contempt for globalization, galvanizes the domestic ideological scene into support for a state caught in perilous global circumstances, and pits the national middle and working classes against the possibility of international class solidarity.

In view of this last claim it is important to recall that the UK’s departure from the EU already heralded the disintegration of the global alliance model. Germany’s industrial machine is cannibalizing the other economies of the Euro zone, and the Hungarian-Russian economic cooperation (against the will of the EU) only confirms the emergence of the nativist lay of the land. The Canadian Justin Trudeau has already signed a number of important individual economic treaties in the aftermath of the collapse of the TTP.


[1] It is equally important to note that the popularity of the tempered puritanism and protectionism of the likes of Emmanuel Macron is only the centrist flipside to Trump’s extreme face of the resurgent neoliberal state.

[2] It is important to recall that as early as the beginning of the Ukraine civil war Angela Merkel refused the imposition of harsh sanctions against the Putin administration in the name of protecting the shared trade and business interests of Germany (a la the EU) and Russia.

[3] The war of words waged against Iran and Russia’s nuclear and missile capabilities should also be analyzed from this perspective.

[4] The legal war against “radical activism” is already underway. For example, Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act of 2015 (aka Bill C-51) already codes and penalizes environmental activism as a terrorist threat to the security of the state.

[5] The current kingmakers have loyal friends in the FBI leadership and the Murdoch media in the US and the UK.

[6] It is important to note that the contradiction at work in this argument – that is, the detour to globalization via protectionism – is not a logical oxymoron. The incommensurate and unbridgeable spatial, historical, and developmental divides that dictate the interests of the Americans and the Chinese (among other nations) of all classes in fact provide the very impetus for global market capitalism in the first place.