Trump Faces Decisions of Great Powers

COMMENTARY Global Politics

Trump Faces Decisions of Great Powers

Jan 8th, 2019 2 min read
Theodore R. Bromund, Ph.D.

Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations

Ted Bromund studies Anglo-American relations, U.S. relations with Europe and the EU, and the U.S.’s leadership role in the world.
The choices before him are difficult, but his administration is playing an angle. NurPhoto / Contributor/Getty Images

From criticizing NATO and the World Trade Organization, to quitting the UN Human Rights Council, to dropping out of the Paris climate deal and the Iran nuclear deal, and now to pulling U.S. forces out of Syria, President Donald Trump is not shy about making big calls. And those big calls all have the same target.

The Trump administration has a theme — even if, amid resignations and firings, it’s hard to keep your eye on this ball. It believes great power competition has returned and the United States needs to recognize it. This theme is a useful guide to policy and an accurate description of the world. And it has corollaries.

One of these corollaries is that the United States can no longer afford to waste time and resources on commitments or institutions that can’t last or don’t work. In the 1990s, it was easy to be blasé about these, in the hope that they would come to something, or out of unwillingness to rock the boat.

But today, those hopes have been dashed. The boat needs rocking. So the administration has challenged approaches that aren’t sustainable. Like me, you may not always agree with how the challenges have been made. But they had to be made.

Low European military spending has been a sore point for the United States since President Dwight D. Eisenhower. But now, facing a resurgent Russia, a U.S. commitment to NATO that requires us to do most of the fighting is militarily and politically intolerable. This can’t go on.

Unlike Trump, I believe in free trade. But China is a trade cheat and an intellectual property thief. It also benefits from developing country status in the WTO, even as it has risen to be the world’s second-largest economy. This can’t go on.

Again, unlike Trump, I don’t think tariffs are the best way to challenge China. No matter what the White House says, it is U.S. consumers, not Chinese exporters, who pay the tariffs we impose. But the old approach on China wasn’t working. It couldn’t go on.

The Iran nuclear deal also wasn’t made for the long haul: It would expire in 2030. The Paris climate deal was built on the premise that the developed world would hurt its economies by taxing carbon, while China played the part of the developing nation and did nothing. This can’t go on.

This piece originally appeared in Newsday