preview

In the first of our occasional series, I speak with Professor Rob Singh about his book After Obama: Renewing American Leadership, Restoring Global Order. Rob looks back at Obama’s foreign policy successes on climate change and his wider failure to forge a new liberal order or create a clear Obama doctrine. He then reflects on what comes next, discussing the possible shape of Trump’s foreign policy amid the fact that we know almost nothing about him. Will Trumpism be just ‘America first’ or a more assertive, interventionist approach? And how will Trump deal with the famous 3 am phone call when it comes?

Listen to the podcast here https://soundcloud.com/british-politics-centre/meet-the-author-rob-singh-obama-and-trump

Read more about Rob’s book here.

 

images

Here is Birkbeck’s Rob Singh on whether Trump’s win is good for the UK…

Silver lining, orange cloud

Only in the way it’s good for a Death Row inmate to receive a comforting swab before the syringe administering the lethal injection. The silver lining on the orange cloud is that a UK-US trade deal is marginally more likely, if Trump isn’t impeached or imprisoned before 2018/19. But its value will be diminished by the global recession Trump’s protectionism could induce, the potential shattering of NATO and trans-atlanticism (fuelled by the Vladimir Putin “bromance” and Jean-Claude Juncker’s Euro army), and fatally catastrophic crisis management from North Korea to Iran. Still, select UK beneficiaries include comedians, cartoonists, Piers Morgan, Katie Hopkins, estate agents selling to American asylum seekers, manufacturers of red power ties and anti-depressants, whoever first hits pay-dirt with That’s Why The (First) Lady is a Trump, and the Queen—eagerly anticipating a State Banquet (taco salad, burgers, diet coke).’

Robert Singh is a professor of politics at Birkbeck

Originally published in prospect here

trump

Among multiple quandaries unanticipated by the Leave campaign, the Brexit vote has left the UK in a peculiar position regarding the US. British politicians reliably depicted London as a ‘bridge’ between Washington and Brussels. Now that we are sawing off the European end, it leaves the UK even more dependent on the US to project global power – just when American attentions appear to be becoming more insular. Obama noted in April that a Leave vote would place the UK ‘at the back of the queue’ for a new US trade deal. Although he subsequently revised his initial formulation, it confirmed the relationship’s fundamental asymmetry, one that most Americans regard with little sentimentality.

What, then, can London anticipate from a Trump or Clinton administration?

Some aspects will remain unchanged: intelligence sharing, diplomatic and defence cooperation, and direct investment. Admittedly, UK credibility was weakened by the Helmand and Basra campaigns, shifty accounting to maintain our 2 percent of GDP commitment to defence, the botched aftermath of the Libya intervention, the Syria parliamentary vote, and reductions in the size and readiness of UK forces (as one American hawk pithily put it to me, ‘how many more tanks are you going to have if you leave the EU?’).

But even if transatlantic asymmetry now extends to Bruce Springsteen being able to fill Wembley Stadium while the British Army cannot, our stationing troops in Estonia and exploring closer defence ties with Germany are seen positively in Washington as evidence of still attempting to ‘punch above our (feather-) weight.’ While the EU army remains nascent and the UK retains its UN Security Council seat, London retains modest leverage – especially given shared security threats from ISIS to Russia.

But there seems minimal prospect for a renaissance of the Thatcher-Reagan or Blair-Clinton/Bush ‘golden’ eras.

First, although Trump and Clinton both profess Anglophilia, their translation into policy appears doubtful. Exactly what a Trump administration would do is close to unfathomable. But the two most consistent aspects of his world-view – the US is exploited on trade and security guarantees by allies and adversaries – cannot bode well. Viewing NATO as ‘obsolete’, admiring Putin, untroubled by nuclear proliferation, and keen to impose tariffs on Chinese imports, Trump’s protectionist and isolationist nationalism would likely plunge the US and global economies into turmoil when the UK at minimum requires stability and growth. Trump’s politics of retrenchment and resentment would compromise UK national and economic security.

But a Clinton victory would be no cause for euphoria. Like Obama – and her husband – before her, to the extent that ‘Europe’ figures high in her attentions, Hillary will regard Berlin, not London, as her key interlocutor. While instinctively internationalist and more invested in personal diplomacy than Obama, she is also pragmatic and more at the great power realist than liberal idealist end of Democratic divisions on global affairs. She does not want to see the EU fail, will be attentive to EU preferences and, if forced to choose between Merkel and May, will likely punt on the former. Moreover, domestic priorities – about which Democrats care most – and rival international matters from reviving the Asia ‘pivot’ to Middle East crisis management will crowd out any urgency to assisting a ‘littler England’ (affection for David Miliband notwithstanding).

Second, the domestic politics of foreign policy remains toxic. The dysfunction of US politics will surely deepen. With Trump and Clinton the most disliked candidates in history, the next president will likely assume office as the most unpopular ever, half the nation seeing not an opponent, but an enemy. Assuming Trump’s epic loser status is confirmed, amid claims of a rigged election, partisan polarization will worsen and the president appear illegitimate to millions. With Republican Party obstructionism tempered only by civil war, a progressive left unwilling to cut Clinton the slack it offered Obama, and a Trumpite rump insistent on outright opposition, the coming gridlock promises to make the past few years appear ones of tranquil harmony.

Third, trade politics are inhospitable for new deals. As her recent leaked speeches attest, Clinton is an instinctive free trader and trade remains a rare issue where bipartisan cooperation is conceivable in 2017-18. But the cynical exigencies that caused her to move from championing the Trans-Pacific Partnership as the ‘gold standard’ for deals as Secretary of State to pledging her opposition as presidential candidate will not dissipate, regardless of who wins the House of Representatives and Senate.

To be clear, much as excitable obituaries of liberal internationalism seem premature, so we should not be too hasty about free trade’s demise. The recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs analysis, America in the Age of Uncertainty, found robust majority support. Moreover, Democrats express greater favourability than Republicans, with only core Trump supporters in opposition.

But Clinton needs organised labour, not least in the 2018 midterms, when 25 Senate Democrats will up for re-election (compared to the Republicans’ 8). Expending limited political capital to revive TPP, TTIP or push a UK-US deal is unlikely to attract either the Elizabeth Warren-type activist base or – for Republicans – the Trumpite ‘deplorables’ who participate in party primaries.

Finally, any trade deal requires Senate ratification, something – unlike the Iran nuclear deal – there is no way around. Even bilateral deals with relatively ‘unproblematic’ states such as South Korea have required years of laborious effort, often being signed by one administration before ratification under a successor.

An inveterate optimist (call him Liam Fox) might reasonably see a ‘small’ UK deal as a better bet than a ‘mega-deal.’ And there remains real empathy for the UK among Republican and, to a lesser degree, Democratic elites. But London lacks institutionalised leverage in Congress. In an increasingly transactional environment, the UK should be actively planning now for how to exert influence not only on the next administration but also in the House and Senate, and among contenders for the 2020 presidential demolition derby. But after decades of sending civil servants on EU training courses and abolishing even the one course dealing with the US, the British bureaucracy now lacks an institutional sense of how Washington works, even in the abstract.

In sum, Obama will likely be proven more right than wrong about the UK’s place in the queue. Even for those Brits who still prefer their cowboys more Clint Eastwood than Brokeback Mountain, America is not about to round up a posse to ride to the rescue of a distressed British damsel just yet.

Rob Singh is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck, University of London, and author of After Obama: Renewing American Leadership, Restoring Global Order (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Originally posted here

Donald Trump Sr. at Citizens United Freedom Summit in Greenville South Carolina May 2015 by Michael Vadon 13

Buffoon. Joke. Jerk. Those are just some of the descriptions of the current front-runner for the Republican Party nomination for president of the United States. From his fellow Republicans, that is. Beyond the party, Donald J. Trump has been lambasted as a bigot, misogynist, and racist. Yet none of this has seemingly hampered the popular appeal of his quixotic quest for the White House.

Should we take the Trump phenomenon seriously? The answer is, emphatically, yes. Laugh at or loathe him, Trump has been the Heineken candidate, reaching parts of the electorate no other candidate can reach. And whilst it remains to be seen whether he can translate his support in the polls into votes, Trump already dominates 2016 in singular fashion. There exists no precedent in the modern era for a political novice setting the agenda so consistently that the media focuses in Pavlovian fashion on whatever subjects Trump raises. From stopping illegal immigration through a ‘beautiful’ great wall with Mexico to a moratorium on all Muslims entering the US, no-one has commanded attention like the New Yorker. Moreover, not only have other Republicans felt compelled to follow his lead but even President Obama’s final State of the Union was essentially an extended rejoinder to the Donald.

So, what underlies the success? Anger, authenticity, media savvy, populism, and timing.

An unapologetically redemptive force

First, most Americans think their country is on the wrong track. Among white working class Americans – the core Trump constituency – stagnant wages, real income decline, and loss of a once-dominant status in a nation transforming economically and culturally underlies disillusion. For Americans regarding ‘their’ country as in need of taking back and among those fearing the US is in terminal decline – polarised and gridlocked at home, discounted and challenged for primacy abroad – Trump represents an unapologetically redemptive force: a visceral, primal scream from the heart of white American nationalism.

Second, Americans broadly view their government as ineffective and political system as corrupt. Running for Washington by running against it, on a platform of incoherent but potently opaque policy positions, no-one – for those wanting to change Washington – embodies the outsider like Trump. Moreover, uniquely, his personal fortune insulates him from charges that he can be ‘bought’ by vested interests. When Trump talks about knowing how to work the system as a businessman, he is credible. Add to that an outspoken willingness to speak directly, bluntly and without fear of causing offence and millions of Americans view the Donald as a truth teller. Like businessmen in politics before him, Trump promises that what he did for himself he can do for America, and that ordinary Americans will once more partake of the increasingly elusive American Dream.

Social media mogul

Third, Trump has exploited his formidable media knowledge with astonishing shrewdness. Outrageous statements, outlandish claims and telling personal insults – seemingly spontaneous but carefully pre-planned and road-tested – compel ratings. Social media abets the creation of an alternative reality and echo chamber from which the distrusted mainstream media are excluded. Disintermediation – cutting out the middle man – compounds Trump’s celebrity status to forge what his 5 million Twitter supporters perceive as a personal link to their politically incorrect champion.

Fourth, Trump – for whom id, not ideology, is all – upends conservative orthodoxy. A New York native who was for most of his life pro-choice on abortion, pro-gun control and a donor to Democrats, Trump is no staid Mitt Romney. In rejecting free trade deals and ‘stoopid’ Middle East wars, pledging to make allies from Saudi Arabia to South Korea pay for US protection, committing to punitive taxes on Wall Street and preserving entitlement programmes for the average Joe, Trump’s anti-elitism is scrambling a party establishment fearful of an anti-government populism it unleashed but cannot control.

Finally, if Obama won the presidency in 2008 as the ‘un-Bush’, what more vivid an antithesis to the current lame duck could be imagined than Trump? After seven years of the most polarising presidency since Richard Nixon, Trump promises to restore the art of the deal – something the US Constitution mandates for successful governing, and AWOL since 2009 – at home and abroad alike.

Can Trump triumph?

Can Trump prevail in the Republican demolition derby? The odds are still against him. After all, most Republicans do not support him and he has been first in national polls in large part because the ‘establishment’ vote has been so fragmented among Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Chris Christie. But if Trump can win or come second to Ted Cruz in the Iowa caucus, and then top the New Hampshire and South Carolina polls, the prospects of him securing the nomination are 50-50 at worst. By the time of the Republican Party convention in Cleveland, Ohio in July, if not well in advance, no one may be laughing other than the Donald.

Find out more

Rob Singh is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck. His new book, ‘After Obama: Renewing American Leadership, Restoring Global Order’ will be published by Cambridge University Press in May. Prof Singh recently appeared on an episode of BBC Radio 4’s The Long View which focused on ‘Donald Trump and the Politics of Celebrity’

By: Anna

  

 

 

 

 

 

And so the annual autumn ritual of American masochism begins again in New York. Like inviting your least likeable in-laws to detail your worst features to your nearest and dearest after an agreeable Christmas lunch, this week’s 68th UN General Assembly welcomes heads of state and government from its 193 member states. With its plenary session overshadowed by Syria, and issues from Iran’s nuclear programme and Israeli-Palestinian relations vying for competition on the agenda, the media expectancy is even greater than usual. “The stakes are very high,” according to PJ Crowley, a former assistant US secretary of state.

What fatuous nonsense. Continue reading