EDITORIAL

‘Normalisation’ or ‘Trumpology’?

Obviously, what is happening these days is extremely important for the evolution of the current global systemic order. Because, if a geopolitical agreement takes place between the U.S. and Russia, something that current U.S. President D. Trump announced since the elections campaign, then it’s clear the current global order will no longer be the same. Because Crimea was annexed by Russia in March 2014, because two new republics, whose self-proclamation was legalised by Moscow and 2-3 other states in its swirl, appeared since 2008 on the territory of independent Georgia, recognised as such by the international community. The old order, established after the Second World War and refined through the agreements reached at the end of the Cold War, could no longer be the same if a U.S. (D. Trump) – Russia (V. Putin) agreement of geopolitical dimensions occurs. Meaning, the old one will be replaced – it’s true, peacefully and not following a hegemonic war – by a new one in which the changes made by Moscow – see the ones mentioned above – will have to be recognised along with others we know nothing about (even Europe fears this possibility, namely that the Russian-American deal could take place over its head and maybe against it too). And, similarly, other issues whose negotiation entails great changes in the current world order are surfacing, such as: what will Russia offer in exchange for the lifting of Western sanctions?; will it return Crimea in exchange of these presumed American concessions, or, in general, what other geopolitical changes will occur?; will Russia ally with the U.S. against China or would the developments follow a different course?; will Europe be the object of the Putin-Trump deal, and will the EU fall apart?; so on and so forth. Precisely because of these “unknowns” that concern the global order, what is happening now in Washington, the clash between the new president and his opponents from the American political establishment, is tensely followed throughout the world.

For several days now, the international press has given room to euphoria concerning the so-called “normalisation.” It is prompted by the perception that President Trump is not what he threatened to be and what he was thought to be in the field of foreign policy. Namely the dismantler of the ‘Pax Americana,’ the president who would put an end to the normal course of U.S. foreign and security policy as it existed for over 70 years.

A recent article published by ‘War on the Rocks’ is trying to interpret this perception of “normalisation” of the White House less than two months since D. Trump took office and to outline the new reality. The premise used is the following: “Rather than weakening America’s web of alliances, Trump’s aggressive statements and erratic behaviour will most likely strengthen the American-led security architecture during his presidency. This is good news for world peace because strong American alliances and strong American allies can deter rivals from launching destabilizing challenges to the predominant order.” Basically, according to this article, we are witnessing a version of large-sale public opinion manipulation technique, which the author calls “Trumpology.” It is targeting both the public opinion but especially the elites of target-states and is registering unexpected but beneficial effects for the U.S. The new edition of the veritable informational offensive targeting allies or opponents, the observing of the new American President’s personality, the measuring of the unpredictability of his behaviour – from his own or his close collaborators’ statements to the @realDonaldTrump twitter account which has tens of millions of followers or the lavishly staged appearances alongside his group of close friends and family members at the signing of presidential orders, sign of human responsibility instead of bureaucratic, impersonal responsibility – have created a “new industry.” In essence, the author says, “Trump’s communications generate all the criteria journalists look for in a good story: conflict, anxiety, comedy, theater, and outrage. This helps media companies, even those attacked by Trump, sell advertising like hotcakes.”

Thus, “Trumpology” is the new contemporary fashion of engaging in politics, including foreign policy. For instance, its appropriate usage – and so far we cannot doubt this – has entailed, in the NATO dossier for instance, first labelling the North Atlantic Alliance as “obsolete,” as Trump did, and simultaneously warning the allies that in order to continue to benefit from the American umbrella they have to spend more on defence.

Such an informational operation was successful: the allies became fearful that the U.S. could abandon NATO, consequently they hastened to announce the hiking of military expenditures, even though some states did so with some reservation (Germany). It’s the result of “Trumpology,” the allies reacting as expected and aligning with the White House. The quoted author concludes: “Fear of abandonment has changed the nature of the defense debate in allied capitals in Asia and Europe. The question is no longer whether defense spending should increase, but how much. U.S. allies in Europe are now scrambling to produce concrete plans for how they will increase defense spending in time for President Trump’s first visit to NATO in late May 2017. His perceived unpredictability is also making military provocations and risk-taking by America’s adversaries less likely.”

More than generating a different attitude on the part of the allies, as in the example quoted, the author shows that “Trumpology” has the chance to enhance the chances of peace and to lower the chances of war at systemic level. To illustrate his thesis, the author refers to the fact that President Obama, the leader of the most powerful state of the planet, generated greater systemic conflict – of course, unintentionally – through his attitude and decisions.

The examples given range from Crimea – where Russia feared Obama’s harsh response to the audacity of its actions – to Syria, where the abandonment of an initial red line could only encourage the expansion of the civil war.

Or in other planetary regions, as in China for instance, where Obama’s restraint from engaging in new conflicts meant Beijing took measures to strengthen itself in the South China Sea islands. Another type of behaviour, such as the one undertaken by Donald Trump, would change things, because its consequence would be the shaping of uncertainty whether the White House is acting rationally or there is “a madman in practice.” So, it would be risky to dare launch military adventures or adventures of a different kind without knowing what the reaction of Trump’s White House would be. “Trumpology” is allegedly based – the aforementioned article states – on one theory of Nobel prize winner Thomas Schelling, who, in his Strategy of Conflict (1960), developed from game theory, shows that it is more propitious (advantageous) to create the perception of being “mad” or “unpredictable” because your opponents or negotiation partners do not know how to read you.

Which is equivalent, in a way, to a modern variant of Clausewitz’s older theory concerning the “fog of war,” and can determine a disproportionate influence on the opponent, prompting him to go on the defensive and to curb his immediate reactions, preferring expectation if not resignation.

Hence, the “normalisation” that is increasingly discussed in D. Trump’s case, in the sense of his “domestication” in the traditional line of American foreign policy, is nothing but a large-scale operation to influence the targets in sight, in order to attain the final result: the upholding of ‘Pax Americana,’ about whose death a series of international politics commentators, from the U.S. and from elsewhere, recently worried. And if another demonstration of the validity of this thesis is needed, one can also invoke the fact that numerous generals, not just retired but also active duty generals holding high-level offices at the Pentagon, are all around Trump at the White House, who seems to listen to them.

It’s just that there is the other side of the coin. Namely, a large camp of the American political establishment has formed, which has numerous external branches within experienced chancelleries, and which deems Trump an infringement of the tradition of U.S. foreign policy, an impermissible sidestep from the customs of American exceptionalism, symbolised by the “Shinning City Upon the Hill.” From this standpoint, the harassment of D. Trump over his potential illegal connections with Russia during the elections campaign reached a new peak precisely during the days in which the “Trumpology” theory was being published.

Related posts

The German alternative

Developments in the South Caucasus

Twitter age in foreign politics?