A new American president and global relations

There will be, in our Caricom region, few observers of global affairs who do not sense a potential rumbling in relation to global arrangements as the year ends. They will be closely watching the movement towards the now inevitable change of management in the United States, at the same time as they observe Britain’s attempt to come to terms with the popular demand, by referendum, that the government reverse the trend of thirty years or so towards Britain’s integration into the European Union. And this is in circumstances in which UK governments, originally following what they thought to be popular sentiment, had initially hesitated to adhere to the EU, but eventually came to accept membership as inevitable.

The phenomenon in the United States of election for two successive terms of government of a black president originally came to be seen as generally acceptable at home, though public sentiment would now seem to feel that there has been little originality in the President’s performance, at least to the extent that his tenure of office did not encourage the electorate to accept yet another Democrat as his successor. Or, as the Americans might say, his coattails were not impressive enough for him to encourage voters to accept another term of Democratic Party rule.

Instead, in the face of what many people, including the pundits, might have thought to be impossible, an individual with no experience in politics or the management of public affairs, first seized the Republican Party nomination, and then the presidency of the United States itself. And he did this by choosing not to follow the general political path of Obama, especially in international affairs, that seemed to be trending in the direction of normalization of global relations and integration into the global system of partial outliers like China.

Trump has seemed to contradict the line of Obama’s foreign policy of keeping Russia and its President Putin at arms’ length, while continuing normalization of relations with China as the predominant non-Western power in contemporary global politics. But candidate Trump campaigned forthrightly against the Western attempt to keep Russia somewhat at arms’ length, in the face of what he seemed to think has been a European Union and US, diplomatic strategy that suggested that the Russian President was intent on disrupting post-Cold War European relations, and in particular, the adherence of many Eastern European states to the European Union.

President-elect Trump has therefore now wasted no time in what seems to be a preempting of President Obama’s line of diplomatic action, and probably going against US change-of-presidency protocol, by essentially initiating public communication with Putin. But clearly, too, he is indicating to America’s allies that the traditional observances of particular kinds of protocol can be taken advantage of by the tactics of a well-known businessman. And in that regard, few should believe that in accepting a telephone call of congratulations from the Government of Taiwan, that Trump does not comprehend the long history of relations between the People’s Republic of China and that entity.

The president-elect, with substantial international business connections and a long connection with Britain, will be aware too of what some might portend as a coming disruption of the capabilities and status of the European Union as a major global diplomatic actor, as a consequence of the UK’s decision to leave that integration system. And he will have been tutored, no doubt, about the substantial difficulties challenging the EU as a consequence of its forced acceptance of large numbers of refugees from Africa and the Middle East.

We can have no doubt that the Mr Trump will be anxious to discuss the implications of American involvement in those areas, but in the Middle East in particular where, indeed, the EU has a certain interest as a consequence of the implications for Turkey, a member of NATO. But more than that, it will already have been obvious to him that in relation to the situation in Syria, President Putin wishes to pursue a line of a certain autonomy. For Putin seeks to ensure the maintenance of a measure of influence of Russia in an area in which, to some observers, the present US administration seemed to be somewhat tired of involvement, but to which it knows it is bound, if only as a result of its own interventions in the last two decades there.

From our perspective, of course, there has been a certain fascination with candidate Trump’s frontal assault on Mexico by way of a challenge of construction of the now infamous wall which will divide the two countries. Within the Latin American sphere, this initiative, clearly to influence the American vote in certain areas, certainly seemed to be unwarranted.

Within this hemisphere, it would not therefore be surprising if there is already some concern about the attitude, and line of action, which the new President will take towards the hemisphere, including, of course, the Caribbean. Candidate Trump’s treatment of the Mexican authorities gives some cause for concern as to his perspectives towards not only the Caribbean, but more importantly, towards the hemisphere as a whole, given the obvious domestic political uncertainties in a state like Brazil.

For our Caricom’s part, of course, it is unlikely that we will find the kind of appreciation which President Obama has displayed. But no doubt our diplomats will be, as a preliminary, perusing the reputations and abilities of those whom the new President selects as managers of hemispheric affairs.

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