Donald Trump’s surprising victory is reverberating around the world. The president-elect has started receiving daily security briefings and both the good and bad were discussed in his meeting with President Barack Obama on Thursday morning.
During the campaign, Trump promised to build a wall along the Mexican border, bar Muslim immigrants and cut foreign aid. He rejected de facto NATO support, encouraged America’s Asian allies to develop nuclear weapons, pledged to abandon the Iran nuclear deal and praised Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
So what could American foreign policy actually look like under Donald Trump?
Joining us with some insights are: Robert Pape, professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago; and Alberto Coll, professor at DePaul University’s College of Law. From 1990 to 1993 he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.
Below, an edited Q&A with our guests.
Chicago Tonight: What do you think America’s place in world is under Trump administration? Isolationist?
Bob Pape: America’s place in the world is likely to be far more detached. We’re not sure what policies he’ll pursue when. Economically, he’s more focused on America’s workers than trade. Militarily, he wants our allies doing more security work overseas. So I think he’ll be more detached rather than deeply engaged.
Alberto Coll: We’re going to be a great super power today and tomorrow. We don’t know much about what Trump will be like. He doesn’t know much and he’ll rely on advisors. There are two parts of the Republican Party: the neo-isolationist wing and the interventionist wing. We’ll see which prevails. It’s hard to say which of the two. He’s talked throughout the campaign about crushing ISIS so that suggests he won’t be totally isolationist. And he won’t be isolationist with North Korea nuclear provocations.
Donald Trump is now getting daily security briefings. How does it work and do you think it’s sobering for him?
Coll: It should be extremely sobering. Donald Trump did receive two serious briefings during the campaign and what we heard about them, he challenged honesty and quality of those briefings. Is he out of depth? Will he be awed or will he insult the career bureaucrats? We don’t know. He tends to choose people around him who tell him what he wants to hear. That could be a problem. Ronald Reagan realized that he didn’t know everything and picked people that he didn’t agree with but who he wanted at the table to discuss things he didn’t know about.
Pape: There’s a team that puts together a daily briefing. It goes about 15 minutes long. But if the president asks questions, it can go longer. President George W. Bush’s would last about an hour because he asked questions. The CIA uses covert means to track threats to America. It was depressing for the CIA when Trump disparaged the briefers during the campaign. It wasn’t a great way to lead the thousands of CIA folks out in the world. If you manage people and you tell them their worthless, you’re not going to get good effort. That’s common sense. But they want to believe that now that he is president-elect that the weight of the responsibility will make a change to his behavior. They really do see president on a daily basis and there’s a lot at stake. They put their lives on line to get that information.
What is America’s future relationship with Russian under a Trump administration?
Pape: Obama thought of Putin as an aggressor willing to trample borders and carelessly give weapons to careless rebels who shoot down planes in Ukraine. Trump sees Putin as a potential business partner. The difficulty in government – it’s not about sharing profit – it’s about national security and interests which could be at odds with each other. It’s a different mindset. We’ll see how profitable it’ll be on a geo-political level. What is in the long-term interest for America? There are cascading consequences in geo-politics.
Coll: We don’t know. Really don’t know. We can expect that his initial instinct will be to work with Putin. Russia has its own interests and policies. They’ll work together at first, but then Trump may find out like President Obama that Putin’s not that easy to work with.
Trump has pledge to cut NATO defacto aid. What could that do to our alliances?
Pape: It’s going to cause our allies to doubt that we’ll defend them. It’ll encourage them to be more detached, even if they pay up. Do we have a national interest in stability in Europe or in the Persian Gulf? Is it worth it for the long haul to have stability in those regions? If we pull out, that creates power vacuums and ultimately hurts our economy.
How do you expect Trump to fight terrorism?
Coll: There is a lot we do and don’t know about Donald Trump. He has a tendency to believe that he knows everything and doesn’t need people. That goes to his temperament. He needs to accept that there are a lot of things he doesn’t know. We’ll see. Many people fear that he’ll impose his own judgment and not get input and advice from the professionals. If that happens, his foreign policy could be handled in an amateurish way. But he could surprise us and listen to people and accept that he has a lot to learn from them.
If Trump is an isolationist, what kind of problems could that cause globally?
Pape: There are two major worries: A major trade war that will substantially reduce America’s GNP with his immigration policies or anti-China policies which will lead to a trade war. That’s how the Great Depression started. The second issue is major international wars. Withdrawing troops from Asia could cause tensions between China, Japan and Korea. We live in such an economically interconnected world, it could harm our GNP at quite significant levels.
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