Why Trump Is Bad for American Diplomacy

Infographic by Pyper Witt and Reed Curtis

Infographic by Pyper Witt and Reed Curtis

When Donald Trump was elected the 45th President in a shocking upset, experts and laymen the world over attempted to figure out what a Trump presidency would look like. Though liberals and the American political elite immediately launched into a histrionic fit of self-pity, with left-leaning newspapers printing stories with headlines such as New York Daily News's, "Wide Revulsion Signals National Nightmare," or Huffington Post's, "Nightmare: President Trump," the reaction from much of the country was that of cautious optimism.

I was one of those optimistic people. I was willing to believe that Trump's divisive and vulgar campaign was a well-orchestrated performance, tailored to capitalize on a historically divided American political landscape. I was willing to believe that once elected, Trump would become "presidential."

Over a year into his presidency, I can see that my optimism was hopelessly misplaced. President Trump seems dead set on dismantling the system of international cooperation that represents the root of American international political power.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States was the world's only superpower, the U.S. economy was by far the largest in the world, and the U.S. had both the means and the will to construct a truly international economic and political system. Through agreements conducted through the framework of the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and other non-governmental organizations, the U.S. established itself firmly as the leader of that international system.

But due to Trump's ill-advised decisions to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Agreement, and most recently, the Iran Nuclear Deal, our international partners have serious reason to doubt the U.S.'s commitment to the very system that we established.

The current international framework in which the United States operates is based entirely on the idea that, if two or more nations make an agreement, the involved parties will abide by the terms of that agreement. Without this central conceit, those countries will deal fairly with each other, international diplomacy cannot function.

Since World War II, it has been understood that if you make a deal with the Americans, they will abide by the terms of that deal. Due to the scale of the U.S. economy, those deals were often unequal; but other countries could at least rest assured that when push came to shove, the U.S. government would abide by the terms of its contracts.

The United States owes much of its dominant global position to our ability to operate within the framework of international law. Because of the size of the U.S. economy, it has been historically in our interest to use that framework to push for an increasingly integrated global economy.

The U.S. was becoming the leader of the world purely by virtue of economic scale. Even if we made some deals that were not, strictly speaking, beneficial to us, the size of our economy meant that we could afford to take some losses in the name of increasingly free international trade.

Due to the fact that nations tend to work better together when they have similar governmental structures, and that representative democracies tend to be more amicable to international free trade, the U.S. has had a vested interest in facilitating the rise of those types of governments. This economic diplomacy has played a large part of the world's increasing shift towards democracy and away from authoritarianism in recent decades.

On the flip side of that economic diplomacy is China. China's Belt and Road Initiative, or their international investment program, is rapidly causing developing nations to look to them, rather than us, as the go-to source for investment capital. In the same way that the U.S. wanted to push other nations towards our type of government, China is pushing the countries they support towards an authoritarian government that is similar to their own.

One simply needs to look at the oppressive regimes that China counts as their close allies, such as Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Sudan, to see that China's ideal partner is a one-party, authoritarian state like theirs. China is rising, their influence is growing, and with leaders like Trump, the U.S. is ill-prepared to counter that influence.