At midnight in Washington, as Donald Trump’s victory became inevitable, the French ambassador to the US sent out a tweet. “It is the end of an era,” he declared, “that of neoliberalism.”
“It remains to be seen what will succeed it,” Gérard Araud added. “After Brexit and this election, everything is now possible. A world is collapsing before our eyes.”
Those sweeping observations were later deleted, but the underlying sentiment will be widely shared in western capitals. Overnight, the world entered uncharted territory. President-elect Trump spent the campaign threatening to upend what has been called the existing order, the network of treaties and multilateral institutions that govern much of global relations.
He has said he would tear up and renegotiate trade treaties , and he has even called into question America’s commitment to the Nato alliance . With a completely different kind of leader preparing to enter the Oval Office, it is already looking like a world turned upside down.
There is a caveat to the direst predictions. Trump will have to work with Congress, including establishment foreign policy Republicans. And he will have to find people to staff the top positions in his administration.
It is possible that he will simply enjoy his victory and his new home in the White House and delegate foreign policy to Republican insiders such as Stephen Hadley , George W Bush’s national security adviser who is rumoured to be interested in reprising his role. That Bush administration seemed radical at the time, but no longer in relation to Trump’s stated agenda.
On balance, it seems more likely that he means what he has said all along about US relations with the rest of the world, and intends to turn his ideas into policy under his personal leadership.
Long-negotiated multilateral trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe, will be the first to be halted. Opposition to those deals were a cornerstone of the Trump campaign.
In their place, Trump has said he will negotiate bilateral deals that would be more favourable for US manufacturing. But he would face hostile trading partners, irritated at the dumping of major agreements. A constant theme of his campaign was to denigrate Chinese trading practices and to promise to claw back American advantage. China will not make concessions easily . Trump’s America could easily face a trade backlash.
The unexpected president-elect has also threatened to tear up the flagship diplomatic achievement of the Obama administration, last year’s international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, which Trump has called disastrous. In response, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, said that if the US tore up the agreement, Iran would “set it on fire”.
The other consistent theme of the Trump campaign was a foreign policy that revolved around his personality. He would brink his self-vaunted skills as a businessman to cut bilateral deals with other world leaders, particular the autocrats.
He said he would even talk to Kim Jong-un if the North Korean dictator would travel to the US for the conversation. That is unlikely, but the prospect of an unconditional dialogue between leaders would throw a wild card into a deadlocked and extremely dangerous situation in which Pyongyang is well on the way to developing a nuclear warhead small enough to put on a missile, and a missile able to reach the west coast of the US.
The relationship that will define the Trump presidency, however, will be with Vladimir Putin . Each has showered the other with praise. Putin called Trump “talented”, and there is clear evidence that Moscow intervened in the US election with the intention of steering it in Trump’s favour.
After Trump’s surprise victory, Putin reportedly sent him a congratulatory telegram.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the only Arab leader to have met with Trump , also congratulated him after hearing the results. During a meeting in New York in September, Trump told Sisi that “under a Trump administration, the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on in the days and years ahead”.
At every turn in the campaign, Trump refused to criticise Russian expansionist foreign policy in Ukraine and Syria. His aides specifically removed language from the Republican party platform about sending lethal aid to Ukraine , and Trump has echoed Putin’s denials of Russian military presence in the east.
In Syria, he has characterised the Russian and Assad regime bombardment of opposition as a war on Islamic extremism, again emulating Moscow’s line. The people of eastern Aleppo had little hope of outside help against daily airstrikes. They have almost none now.
Early in a Trump presidency, expect a summit with Putin, in which US-Russian relations will be reworked along lines the Russian leader has been pushing for, ceding Moscow areas of influence in the Middle East and on Russian borderlands.
Any such discussion could trigger resignations from generals and diplomats in the Pentagon and state department. It would also shock major US allies in Nato, an alliance Trump has described as “obsolete”. He has questioned whether it would be worthwhile for the US to provide a security umbrella to allies who are not deemed to have contributed enough, in financial terms, to collective security.
Turmoil within Nato could meanwhile tempt Putin to make encroachments on the alliance’s eastern flank. Few will be more anxious about the global consequences of a Trump win than the residents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Some of those who will be most satisfied will be the leaders of Europe’s hard right, who sees Trump as a natural partner. They and their followers will be emboldened. The ripples of Brexit washed over the US presidential elections and now the far stronger ripples of the shock result will flow back over the Atlantic. A measure of their impact will come in April, when Marine Le Pen of France’s Front National will make a run for that country’s presidency.
As dawn broke over Paris, Le Pen’s most senior strategist, Florian Philippot, tweeted a riposte to Araud’s anxiety. He said: “Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built.”
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