Hussain Abdul Hussain
As if his speech writers had read one of Anadolu Agency's headlines "America First or America Alone," and were responding to it, when U.S. President Donald Trump recently told world leaders at Davos: "America first does not mean America alone," he added: "As president of the United States, I will always put America first, just like leaders of other countries should put their country first."
Trump's advice to world leaders would have been genuine, had America not been involved in and around most countries around the globe. In northern Syria, just across the border from Turkey, America has empowered PYD/PKK forces that Ankara believes has been responsible for a wave of terrorist bombings that hit Turkish cities, including tourist destinations such as Istiklal Street in Istanbul.
How does Trump expect world leaders to put their countries first, while at the same time enabling forces that undermine the security and interests of these countries, especially NATO members and U.S. allies like Turkey?
Such contradiction characterized Trump's speech before the world's wealthy and powerful at Davos, the same way it characterizes most of Trump's policies and statements. Trump either utters falsities, such as when he claims that American unemployment rate is at a record low, which is not the case, or he is unaware of U.S. policies, such as when he tells Turkey that Washington stopped arming PYD/PKK terrorist group, but then U.S. troops maintain their deployment alongside these armed terrorist groups.
At Davos, Trump offered half truths in foreign policy. America has defeated Daesh, but it did so thanks to the cooperation of a host of regional players. Had governments, like Turkey, not opened its Incirlik airbase for U.S. fighter jets to provide air support for the fighters who ejected Daesh from Syria and Iraq, defeating it would have been a much harder task.
America asked for help in beating Daesh, but refused to give its allies a hand in defeating other radical groups. The reciprocity that Trump demanded in trade, only to make trade fair, does not seem to be applicable to other aspects of international politics, such as the war on terror, where Washington expects help, but rarely lends a hand if a given radical group does not bother America much.
"To make the world safer from rogue regimes, terrorism, and revisionist powers, we are asking our friends and allies to invest in their own defenses," Trump said in Davos.
Many countries, including America's allies, have been investing heavily in their defenses, fearing that an unpredictable Trump might not come to their rescue should the need arise. The problem is that Trump has yet to decide how big he wants American footprint around the world to be.
If America is looking after her own interests only, then it should let other countries look after theirs. If America deploys its forces around the world, then it should expect to listen to its allies who might have interests that America might not necessarily see or appreciate.
But to do both, to announce an America First policy while at the same time maintaining the usual big American footprint around the world, is a contradiction that needs to be resolved. Trump's speech in Davos did not help resolve the American contradiction, but only helped make it look clearer.
On economic policy, Trump's pitch to the world at Davos offered mixed messages. He boasted that America's economy was "by far" the largest in the world, and invited the world to invest in America. Then he dressed down some world governments for cheating international trade rules.
Now what happens if countries who are cheating the world trade system are also investing in America? Will America penalize their unfair trade practices, at the risk of losing their investments in the U.S.? Or will America look the other way, thus using fair trade as a punishment tool against countries that do not invest in America?
Trump was "spinning" most of the tidbits that he offered in his speech. It is true that America is the largest economy, but it also holds the largest national debt in absolute terms, and ranks in the top five countries in debt to GDP ratio.
So while Trump said that the American economy had come roaring back — which might not be very accurate given that U.S. economic growth slowed down half a percentage point in the last quarter — he dropped many other facts that would have proven that the economic picture of America, and the world, might not be as rosy.
The stock market and big corporations might be doing great, but the average household income for most Americans has barely kept up with the inflation rate.
Trump can insist all he wants that America first does not mean America alone, but a quick survey would show that since his arrival at the White House, Washington has alienated a host of its allies, from Europe to Turkey and South Asia.
Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement believing that America could negotiate more favorable bilateral trade agreements with member countries, given America's humongous economy that gives it unlimited leverage in trade negotiations.
But something unexpected happened. Instead of TPP falling apart and member nations entering into bilateral talks with America, they kept the agreement alive, thus establishing a free trade zone with a sizable economic size.
Now Japan and Australia can negotiate with America on behalf of the TPP zone, which takes away the American advantage.
From foreign policy to economics, Trump's speech at Davos was loaded with contradictions, and this cannot be good for anyone, America or the rest of the world.
In US sensitivity to and understanding of Turkish society, nothing has changed over the past 5 years
Rachael M. Rudolph joins Bryant Zhuhai as an Assistant Professor of Social Science in the fall term. Her research focuses on Sino-American relations, US-North Korean relations, strategic security in the Asia Pacific region, and transnational crime. She can be reached at: [email protected] M. Rudolph
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