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US Politics

Trump in office is finding it hard to make America great again

There is abundant evidence that Donald J Trump’s presidency is coming apart at the seams.  He has failed to bring his healthcare package designed to repeal Obamacare through the Houses of Congress.  His 90-day ban on certain Muslims travelling to the United States from certain States has been watered down, and is generally regarded as a vindictive, futile damp squib.

His sabre-rattling with the North Korean regime which, as you may recall, involved moving a phantom fleet towards North Korea, does not appear to have swayed Kim Jong Un from his path.  The moderate South Korean President is obviously determined to avoid confrontation on the peninsula.  Trump’s efforts to enlist the Chinese in his campaign to end North Korea’s atomic ambitions has yielded no fruit as of yet.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Qatar has become involved in a complex multilateral stand off with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.  Ironically, Trump’s nominal NATO ally, Turkey, has established a base in Qatar with the outcome that Qatar now hosts both US and Turkish forces on its tiny landmass. Trump’s treatment of Qatar has been erratic and clumsy.

The US strategy of containing ISIS has created a great number of ticking time bombs in terms of foreign policy.  The Shia government in Baghdad and its militias are expelling ISIS from its remaining major Iraqi base on Mosul.  Expulsion of ISIS from Iraq and linking of Assad/s forces in Syria with the Iraqi regime’s forces on the Syrian-Iraq border creates a new problem for Trump – a continual line of supply from Tehran to Damascus. 

This development is seen by the Saudis and the US State Department as the creation of a Shia arc of influence from Iran to Lebanon. The Turks, of course, are deeply concerned about the emergence of a de facto autonomous US-backed Kurdish region along their border in Northern Syria.  Turkey has now become wholly alienated from both the EU and the US in terms of regional policy and international affairs.

Some of you may recall the rambling speech given by Donald Trump at Fort Dodge in Iowa during the presidential primaries.  In the course of his “address”, Trump managed to outline his projected policy for dealing with ISIS when he informed his audience that he would “bomb the shit out of ISIS”, send in forces, establish a perimeter, bring in the guys from Exxon to “take out the oil”, and then leave the ISIS strongholds.

We now know that life is a lot more complicated than the picture painted to the chanting, cheering audience at Fort Dodge.

Trump is still contemplating some form of confrontation with Iran.  But he now faces the new reality that Iran and Turkey are being forced together by the belligerent foreign policy being pursued by the new Saudi administration.

It is hard to see how Trump’s famous conference of Islamic states in Riyadh achieved much, if anything.  The Middle East is more confrontational, less stable and more hostile to the US than it has ever been.  Backing the Sunni monarchies in a “get tough” approach to Qatar and Iran has backfired completely.

The problem with all of this is that Trump badly needs to be seen to be taking decisive action.  His domestic image requires that he uses American air power and naval power to subjugate weaker countries who are stepping out of line.

Israel, for its part, has been launching small scale attacks on Assad and has kept up its demand for some form of indeterminate action to be taken against Iran.  Again, Trump’s visit to Israel, where his rhetoric is greatly appreciated, seems to have achieved little.

The only encouraging signs from the Middle East are of an improvement in the relationship between Hamas and Al-Sisi Egyptian government.  Limited oil supplies to the Gaza Strip which is under the control of Hamas and a relaxation of the very strict control of border crossings between Egypt and Gaza might form part of a strategy to unite the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as negotiating partners with the Israeli government on the project of a two-state solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

On top of all his disappointments, the fact that Trump is mired in a special prosecutor investigation of potential links between his election campaign and Putin’s Russia has created an ongoing sense of crisis which is deeply debilitating for Trump’s self-image and popularity.

Time is ticking away.  Are the mid-west steel mills and coal mines reopening?  There is no sign of it.  US repudiation of the Paris Accord on climate change might go down well at home but has reduced American influence internationally to its lowest level in decades. 

Trump’s self regarding idiocy keeps shining through the heavy media defences he has erected around the White House. Nothing could have been more ridiculous than his bragging speech about a new bigger Mexican wall covered with solar panels. The fact that his audience cheered this lunatic riff speaks volumes about the ignorance and naivete of his core support.

Moreover, his fatal predilection for sending extremely unwise Tweets has re-emerged with his recent, deeply  unpleasant attack on journalist Mika Brzezinski. In fairness to Trump, his cack-handed compliment to Catriona Perry, the RTE White House correspondent, was relatively harmless. Smiling European journalists are probably a rare pleasure in Trump’s world. 

However, we can’t avoid the sinking feeling that the worse things get for Trump, at home and abroad, the more likely he is to do something extremely dangerous in terms of the use of military force. So far he has kept his hands off Maduro’s Chavista regime in Caracas.  But how long will he be willing to refrain from some form of overt or covert intervention aimed at regime change there or in Iran?

Relations with Putin seem to have simmered down somewhat and Putin’s aggressive actions in Ukraine seem to be held in check for the time being. 

Trump now realises that his lavish welcome for the outcome of the Brexit referendum and his apparent support for disintegration of the European Union have produced little or nothing of help in making America great again. His visit to Theresa May has become a worry for the Tories.

The French, Dutch and Austrian elections, and the likely outcome of the forthcoming German election leaves Trump’s EU strategy (if it could be described as such) in tatters.

With all these clouds on Trump’s horizon, we had better brace ourselves for further jolts.  Making America great again just doesn’t seem that easy any more.  Trump’s great campaign to improve American infrastructure simply hasn’t materialised.

The real question now is whether the Democrats can do sufficient damage to the Republicans in the  mid-term elections to persuade Americans to back some currently unknown electable Democrat as president in three year’s time ,or otherwise to persuade the Republican party to nominate a different presidential candidate, thus bringing an end Trump’s presidency at the end of a single, disastrous term.

We can but hope.


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