This month US President Donald Trump announced his National Security Strategy. If it can be summed up in one word then the strategy is driven by fear. A country or a family that is gripped by fear engages in building walls, new weapons are bought, and more guards installed at the gate. It is quite common in third world countries that families living even in high rise buildings install iron protective grills at their windows and doors to feel secure. Only a Superman or a Spiderman can reach such heights but still, the family takes these irrational measures to sleep peacefully at night. Similar is the situation of Trump’s America that is gripped with fear and unsure of its future. They are building a wall at Mexico border; walking away from trade agreements; undermining multilateral organizations; closing their borders to Muslims, dividing their communities through intolerance, and relying on the military to sort out differences with other states. It is understandable that fear is used to develop a strategy because three key members of Trump cabinet his chief of staff; secretary defense; and national security adviser are all generals. A soldier promotes real or imaginary fear because it justifies their career.
The other defining characteristic of Trump National Security Strategy is that it proposes all past governments were a failure. The document does not specify from which administration the failure started but a careful reading suggests they believe it started with former Presidents Bill Clinton, and continued during terms of George Bush, and Obama. The document suggests these governments signed bad trade deals, engaged in pointless wars and adopted the wrong strategy towards China and Russia. It does not suggest why would Trump administration succeed and avoid mistakes made by past governments. A review of the first year of the administration suggests that they have made more mistakes in one year than full terms of past governments. The UN General Assembly vote on Jerusalem is just one indication that America is now isolated in the World as 14 out of 15 UN Security Council members and 128 out of 193 UN General Assembly members rejected Trump decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of apartheid regime of Israel. Not only that recent surveys suggest that Europeans now believe America is a greater threat to global order than North Korea or Russia. America has been missing from peace tables set up for Syria and Ukraine and may face the similar situation in Afghanistan, Palestine, and Yemen.
The other characteristic of Trump National Security Strategy is confusion and contradictions. On the one hand, Trump wants the USA to take unilateral decisions while suggesting that multilateral platforms should be strengthened. It wants to use its economy as a diplomatic tool but announce departures from trade deals. It wants to feel safe by blocking its borders but still wants to attract talent from around the world. It wants freedom of religion but immigrants will be discriminated based on their faith. The document talks about using diplomacy as the key tool while cutting the budget for State Department and reducing its staff.
The document defines three adversaries that it is China, Russia, and Islamic terrorism. These threats will mostly be dealt through military means by taking the war to them. It proposes to be more aggressive in the South China Sea and Central Asia to contain the rise of China and Russia respectively. It wants to continue wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan to contain non-state terrorists and pressure Iran and Pakistan as alleged safe heaven providers to these organizations. In other words, more wars and increased tension so that America feels safe.
The main casualty of Trump National Security Strategy is the American dream and converting it to an American State. Throughout its history of 240 years, America presented itself as an ideal and a new world to attract ambitious people from around the world. The country presented itself as a promoter of tolerance and protector of freedoms of expression, religion, and assembly. It was a champion of human rights, demanding level playing field to compete, and seeking world peace. Now America is a nation-state that will decide who is welcome and who is not based on their country or faith. This nation-state will fight with everyone that does not agree with it.
American decline started after the fall of USSR emerging as a sole superpower. The main reason for this decline is arrogance. This arrogance resulted in engaging in an illegal war in Iraq that was not sanctioned by UN and was based on lies. It also resulted in the occupation of Afghanistan but that war is still going on after the lapse of 16 years. America engaged in regime change in Libya and Syria that destroyed the old order and resulted in chaos and destruction whose cost will be paid by Europe as it spreads there. These wars have cost America over a trillion dollars and loss of credibility around the world. Election of Trump is the result of angry American citizens losing faith in status quo politicians. This election has increased the speed of decline exponentially and we don’t know how the fall of a superpower will rearrange the world order. We also don’t know whether this new order will emerge peacefully or through a violent third world war. The ideas proposed in National Security Strategy has increased risks of a third world war as it relies on weapons rather than diplomats. The risks are high because the President lacks political skills as well as driven by narcissism and most key decisions are made by Generals rather than politicians or diplomats.
By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi