Trump has no foreign policy: Professor Onuf

TEHRAN, Aug. 06 (MNA) – A Professor of the Florida International University believes that American President Trump has no sense what is to have foreign policy.

Professor Nicholas Onuf, a primary figure among constructivists in international relations, tells the Tehran Times that “Trump has no foreign policy, or even any idea what it means to have a policy, as opposed to an emotional reaction to whatever is happening on any given day.”

Onuf says “Trump and Putin may develop a working relationship for tactical purposes, although I doubt that Putin believes Trump is competent or reliable, and Trump’s domestic problems would put significant constraints on any such relationship.”

Professor of the Florida International University, adds that “They will create nothing that would count as a new system or new order.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Nowadays we are witnessing great gaps and differences among G7 member states while SCO member states are moving forward more convergence. Some believe that the orders and the regimes created after World War II are declining and because of this reason the US is not going to pay the costs of regimes like NATO, WTO and different free trade treaties like NAFTA and so on. What do you think of this? Why the US is not ready to pay the costs of the regimes and orders as before?

It is exceedingly difficult to generalize about functionally specific international regimes (defense, trade, resources, environmental standards, climate change, refugees, aerial traffic, shipping etc.) because they are so many, so diverse, and so varied in powers.  Overall, I would say that most such regimes are flourishing because they deploy and coordinate technical and managerial expertise in dealing with a vast number of problems transcending state frontiers.  

I am sure your readers are aware of President Trump’s clam that he will ‘drain the swamp’ in Washington.  What he does not realize is that ‘the swamp’ is global, but not nearly as fluid as the metaphor suggests.  The vast, functionally differentiated complex of international regimes co-exists with innumerable governmental ministries and agencies in every state (for the most part, functionally oriented), non-state special-interest institutions (many of them informal and unseen), and financial and commercial enterprises (including his own), all operating together in relatively stable, durable patterns.

As a general matter, governments pay for these international regimes, and accept limitations imposed on themselves and their many constituencies because there are demonstrable benefits in doing so.  It is a truism in international relations theory that the US government has always paid disproportionately more than other governments to achieve these benefits for the country as a whole; this is an entirely rational course of action because the benefits exceed the costs and there is no cheaper way to achieve these benefits.  Now it may be that Trump simply does not believe this to be the case—he has many beliefs that simply defy reason.  It may be that this is a negotiation tactic that he used in business—make dire threats in order to make a marginally better deal.  It may be that he just likes to shake things up and see his name in the headlines all the time—he is, after all, narcissistic far beyond the norm for political leaders.  Or it may be the he is appealing to his so-called ‘electoral base’—people who are angry about everything.

While the US president Donald Trump attended the NATO and G7 summits with an aggressive approach toward Washington’s allies, he is trying to improve relation with North Korea and Russia with a reconciling approach. Why?

In my opinion, Trump sees himself as a strong, decisive leader at the top of a hierarchy or chain of command.  As such, he demands deference from friends and allies, all of whom he takes to be subordinates, and compliance with his wishes, which he correctly sees them as resisting.  He admires other strong men who seem to get their way no matter what.  As a matter of temperament and aspiration, he is an autocrat.  

International community is experiencing a new area in which while the US is retreating from the old orders and regimes, China is trying to impose its own orders and regimes by reviewing ancient Silk Road project. To what extent the developments in the Middle East especially in Syria are affected by international systems structure which is changing?

What you call structural change represents as challenge to theory.  Are shifting relations among the great powers a sign that the structure is changing or that the structure is working (the way that the realist balance of power theory says it will)?  To what extent is ‘structure’ a misplaced metaphor, when what we are seeing are long-term processes playing out over a period of decades?  If this is so, then we are likely to give day-to-day developments more importance than they deserve.

Some theoreticians including John Mearsheimer believe that one of the most important elements of president Trump’s foreign policy is to move toward offshore balancing and reduction of troops and increasing of animosity with Iran. Do you agree with this? Will the US decrease the number of its troops in Middle East? If we accept that the mentioned elements be the base for Trump’s foreign policy, how will Washington confront with Iran’s regional influence?

Here’s what Mearsheimer said exactly one year after Trump’s inauguration:
A year ago I was optimistic because I thought Trump represented a force for change, and I was pessimistic because he hardly knew anything about foreign policy, he was not a good listener, and he tended to shoot from the hip.  I think if you look at where we are today, there’s no question that he did not disappoint regarding his tendency to shoot from the hip and to display great ignorance about foreign policy. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Trump administration after one year is its incompetence.

I have no reason to think that Mearsheimer thinks things have gotten any better.  In my view, Trump has no foreign policy, or even any idea what it means to have a policy, as opposed to an emotional reaction to whatever is happening on any given day.  I’m pretty sure that Mearsheimer would agree with this assessment. While there are undoubtedly ranking officials in the government who have well-formed policy preferences, they have neither the standing nor the courage to speak publicly, or even privately to Trump.  So, in answer to your specific questions:  nobody knows whether the US will decrease its presence in the Middle East, and least of all the President.  The US government will continue to express great animosity toward Iran because it is an easy way to enflame Trump’s supporters, not because it is policy.  And there will be inconsistencies because there is no policy.  No one is Washington has any idea how to rein in Iran as a regional power, because it cannot be done without catastrophic costs.   

Reacting to President Trump’s remarks calling EU as the US foe, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council asked Trump and Putin not to disturb world order. Do you think that Trump and Putin are going to create a new world order? If your answer is yes, how will the new polarization be in the new order?

Trump and Putin may develop a working relationship for tactical purposes, although I doubt that Putin believes Trump is competent or reliable, and Trump’s domestic problems would put significant constraints any such relationship.  They will create nothing that would count as a new system or new order.  Both face domestic decline and disorder, whatever their efforts to have the world believe otherwise.  And China’s decline will not be many decades behind the US and Russia.  I argued in an earlier interview that the capitalist world economy has created insurmountable global problems.  Just one is climate change—consider this summer’s record heat waves in Iran, Japan, Northern Europe and the US. The functional machinery I talked about is unlikely to solve these problems.  It is even less likely that a consortium of autocrats can solve them.

Interview by Javad Heirannia


News Code 136475


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