Reacting to Singapore
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
There is a remarkable takeaway from the Singapore summit which poses a fascinating question for American politics. While it will be months and likely years before it is evident whether the steps toward a nuclear free Korean peninsula actually began yesterday; the response in Washington and by many people in America has been remarkable. It challenges political history and demands an understanding of what President Trump is conducting on a geopolitical level.
America’s foreign policy since the days of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson has been dominated by two separate themes; protectionism and internationalism. Until the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, international relations in America was driven by an inward looking, nativist, separatist policy. The United States engaged with the world for economic necessities and military concerns, but largely as the Monroe Doctrine articulated, the Western Hemisphere was America’s domain.
Until 2017 the internationalist theme which emerged in World War I has been the dominant framework for American statesmen and diplomats. Certainly during the Twenties and Thirties, America’s post-war withdrawal from Europe and later efforts to avoid entry into World War II were very much present. Once the war began, however, through the Cold War until today, both Democrats and Republicans largely have supported American international engagement. Much of that is now being challenged by Trump’s own America First movement and his drive to disengage from U.S. allies; both economically and militarily. On the other hand, he is supporting and befriending authoritative rulers for his misguided interests.
This truly fascinating turnaround over the last 18 months has occurred largely among elected Republican officials who have followed the lead of the White House. The speed with which hawkish, hardline, anti-Russia, anti-China Republicans appear to have endorsed Trump’s policy has been remarkable. This new “doctrine” was reflected in a 180-degree switch for the Republicans, which was manifested in their largely favorable response to Trump’s meeting with the world’s most despicable dictator, Kim Jung-on. Kim had been the prototype of the leader that Republicans had opposed and now were embracing.
There was also a very strong supportive reaction which Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu ought to rein in before it is too late. Instead of constantly fawning over Donald Trump, Netanyahu needs to be much more statesmanlike and cautious. It is appropriate for Israel to acknowledge the efforts towards peace of its most important global ally. Some of the unceasing praise, however, that Bibi is pouring on Trump could end up being discarded if or when the Saudi’s or the Gulf States or the Egyptians suddenly fall out of love with their warming relationship with Israel. If Trump faces choosing between Israel and America’s oil producing, cash paying allies, Netanyahu ought to take heed, He needs only to note the speed with which Trump turned on Justin Trudeau.
In Netanyahu’s part of the world, repairing a friendship that Trump disposed of on a whim will not be so simple. Bibi may assume that he understands American politics better than most Israelis and Americans. Most world-wide politicians and analysts, however, have never observed a leader conduct the affairs of state like President Trump.