CANBERRA – Whether or not US President-elect Donald Trump behaves better once in office than he did on the campaign trail, America’s global authority has already taken a battering, not least among its allies and partners in Asia.
Exercising soft power – leading by democratic and moral example – will not be easy for Trump, given the disdain he showed for truth, rational argument, basic human decency, and racial, religious, and gender differences, not to mention the fact that he was not actually elected by a majority of voters. And when it comes to exercising harder power – doing what it takes to counter serious challenges to peace and security – there will be little confidence in Trump’s judgment, given that almost every statement he made during his campaign was either wildly contradictory or downright alarming.
Maintaining security, stability, and prosperity in Asia requires a cooperative environment, in which countries secure their national interests through partnerships – not rivalries – and trade freely with one another. The only grounds for confidence on this front after Trump’s victory is that he may actually do none of the things he said he would, such as starting a trade war with China, walking away from alliance commitments, and supporting Japan and South Korea going nuclear.
With little or no hard knowledge of international affairs, Trump is relying on instincts that are all over the map. He combines “America first” isolationist rhetoric with muscular talk of “making America great again.” Staking out impossibly extreme positions that you can readily abandon may work in negotiating property deals; but it is not a sound basis for conducting foreign policy.