Trump’s unilateralism breaks the mould of Republican presidents

By Lin Hongyu Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/25 17:43:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

US President Donald Trump, pledging to "Make America Great Again," has moved away from international agreements and obligations since he took office. He has withdrawn the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), talks on the Global Compact on Migration, and the Iran nuclear deal. Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, announced on June 19 that the US was quitting the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), saying that the organization displayed a "chronic anti-Israel bias" and was "not worthy of its name." The UN expressed disappointment with the US decision.

The Trump administration's series of withdrawals reflects parochialism, prejudice and selfishness. It ruins the multilateral cooperation of the global society and hurts efficient global governance, bringing uncertainties to world peace and development. Withdrawal, intransigence and unilateralism are three main approaches of Republican presidents' diplomatic strategy since the 20th century. Giving full play to all the three, Trump has formed his own style of presidency.

Influenced by pragmatism, Republican presidents tend to neglect political correctness and withdraw from international conflicts and wars which consume national power, so as to defend US national interest and win voter support. For example, Warren Harding argued against his Democratic predecessor Woodrow Wilson's proposal of the US joining the League of Nations, dragging the nation back to isolationism; Dwight Eisenhower ended the Korean War, which helped him win an eight-year term, and Richard Nixon's approval rating rose sharply because of his declaration of ending the Vietnam War.

President Trump's style is to zealously withdraw from a long list of agreements, giving up both practical international cooperation such as the TPP and those that concern political correctness and the country's honor, such as the UNESCO and UNHRC. Instead of long-term reputation, Trump cares more about present benefits.

Because of the tradition of patriotism, Republican presidents sometimes adopt tough diplomatic policies, especially in military affairs, to win opinion polls. For example, Theodore Roosevelt's "big stick" diplomacy was to extend US' influence in Latin America and the Caribbean, and Ronald Reagan's "rollback" policy aimed to pursue US dominance of the world. Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again" basically copied Reagan's ideas, including building military strength, raising defense expenditure and putting military programs first. However, Trump focuses more on the soldiers' political role and there are many officials with military backgrounds in his cabinet.

Republican presidents sometimes get into one-sided pursuit of national interests, disregarding concerns of the international society. For example, George W. Bush started the Iraq War in 2003, bypassing the UN Security Council and against opposition by some big powers. Trump's unilateralism is extremely concentrated on US interests. He will impose sanctions if the US' interests are concerned, ignoring other countries' demands. For example, he recently imposed unilateral US tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe, Canada and Mexico.

Trump is a very special president and shouldn't be measured by traditional standards. He had no experience of holding public office or in diplomacy, and goes against the elite, free trade, the traditional establishment and political correctness. Besides, Trump's business career and personality also influence his diplomatic policies. Lacking experience in politics and diplomacy, Trump brings business skills into international exchange. Hence, his diplomatic decisions become inconsistent. Trump also likes to be in the limelight and may make random decisions only to draw the world's attention or to create a new record. Considering all the above factors, US foreign policy and China-US relations in the future wouldn't be difficult to understand.

The author is dean of College of International Relations, Huaqiao University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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