The end of Pax Americana

The end of Pax Americana
Comment: Trump's antics are depriving the White House of its ability to focus on long-term strategic vision, and making it susceptible to special interest-groups, writes Mustafa Garbuz.
5 min read
16 Jun, 2017
The damage is already severe in American social fabric, writes Gurbuz [Getty]

Who is in charge of making American foreign policy nowadays?

Washington wonks have long expected that President Donald Trump would fall into the line of traditional civil-military establishment in crafting foreign policy agenda.

Yet, as dramatic events continue to unfold and now gather serious potential for Trump's impeachment, the White House is increasingly impressionable to fringe lobbies - a trend that is now observed for both domestic and foreign policy making.

In other words, the more the Trump administration feels threatened, the more open it becomes to accept support from special interest-groups, and thus, more chaotic foreign policy making decisions will follow. 

The best recent example was the contradictory statements on the Qatar crisis. While the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the diplomatic efforts to mitigate the crisis and to ease the blockade, President Trump - only few hours after Tillerson - took strikingly different approach by accusing Qatar of being "a funder of terrorism at a very high level".

Contradictions and chaotic decisions of the Trump administration - from the travel ban to the withdrawal of the Paris agreement, from Mr Trump's refusal to endorse Article 5 of NATO Washington treaty, to his deliberate misquotation of the statement by London Mayor Sadiq Khan - have led not only Democrats but also Republican lawmakers to worry about Washington's leadership around the globe.

What could be worse than two Americas not understanding each other? Perhaps, it is two Americas that have lost willingness to listen to each other

Most memorably, as once rival and a staunch critic of former president, Barack Obama, Republican Senator John McCain acknowledged that the American leadership was stronger under President Trump's predecessor.

The problem, however, is not simply about Trump's "America First" policy that favors isolationism. A close attention to deeper structure would reveal the problem of "post-truth America".

The American public is increasingly polarised and the overall media sector fuels partisan feelings. The implications of post-truth America are far-reaching, not confined to domestic issues.

According to a survey conducted by the Brookings Institution, for example, Trump's travel ban has been one of the most divisive issues along the party lines in modern American history: while 88 percent of Republican voters support the ban, 86 percent of Democrats oppose it.

The more open it becomes to accept support from special interest-groups

Such polarisation effectively curbs sophisticated non-partisan debates on American foreign policy, especially given the most threatening issue for the White House is a foreign policy matter - the alleged Russian collision.

Under heavy pressure by the mainstream media, President Trump has become a prominent consumer and enabler of the conspiracy theories, and thus, empowering fringe media outlets. For the sake of partisanship, major networks such as Fox News have amplified "alternative facts" of the right-wing pundits who were traditionally at the margins of Washington.

Consider repercussions of the former FBI director James Comey hearing. A notorious conspiracy theorist's tweet, "Comey said under oath that Trump did not ask him to halt any investigation," was taken as a fact by Fox News and reached millions of Americans - only to be debunked by the New York Times story.

As the credibility of The New York Times, The Washington Post - among many others - comes under systematic attack by the President of the United States, the American conservative constituency has become ever reluctant to carry out fact-checking with the major outlets, what Mr Trump pejoratively calls "fake MSM".

The outcome is bizarre. Trump supporters believed that the President was totally "vindicated" by the Comey hearing, whereas most Democrats perceived the hearing a useful step forward to Trump's impeachment. What could be worse than two Americas not understanding each other? Perhaps, it is two Americas that have lost willingness to listen to each other.

Evidence matters little when compared to feelings of trust

President Trump is apt to understand the essentials of populism: Evidence matters little when compared to feelings of trust. That is why his Twitter activism has paramount importance.

From his unbacked claims of Obama's wiretappings to his verbal attack on the London Mayor, Mr Trump feels to "touch" his base with a populist discourse that is amplified by the news media, and thus, often succeeds in dominating the headlines.

Although the Republican party leadership demands "less drama" from the White House, it is apparently an intentional policy making. 

Trump’s Twitolicy, however, comes at a high price.

Now, that the United States has lost its sight in the long-term vision of leadership, American soft power is in shambles. Liberal pundits hope that the Congress members may turn against the President as the 2018 elections approach, which may initiate an actual impeachment process.

Yet, the damage is already severe in American social fabric. The Trump effect had ripples even reaching the Democratic Party to split into two rival factions, making a sea change in the political environment. 

Thus, regardless of whether Mr Trump is impeached, the rise of the post-truth America may forewarn the end of an era under American leadership in the world. That is bad news for the Middle East where serious diplomatic leadership most needed more than ever.  

Dr. Mustafa Gurbuz is a Middle East Analyst at Arab Center Washington DC and teaches in the Arab World Studies program at American University.

Follow him on Twitter: @Mustafa__Gurbuz

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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