Is Trump a blessing in disguise for world peace?

Let’s first agree that if Trump is a blessing in disguise for world peace, he makes an exceptionally good disguise.

Trump’s bark is probably the worst of any US president in living memory. He has threatened the total destruction of North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and probably a few other countries. He has made belligerent and antagonistic statements towards nearly all the closest US allies in Europe and the rest of the world, with the possible exception of Israel. He has started trade wars with China, Canada, the EU, and lots of other countries. For private gain, it seems he drew back American support for the Ukraine government in the hope that this would get them to do his political bidding at home. He has similarly trashed the Iran nuclear deal that was the main hope of diffusing tensions in that region, and don’t even get me started on his management of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or his stance towards climate change.

In terms of openly flouting the normal rules of international politics and diplomacy, Trump is the worst major leader I have encountered in my life-time, and I am old enough to remember Reagan and what the CIA was up to under his watch!

And yet, and yet. His bite is remarkably soft. Though his rhetoric and flouting is that of a bull in a China shop, there is a reasonable argument to be made that he has made the shop a lot safer because of his personal behaviour. Everything in the shop has been tightened up out of fear of disruption by the bull. Blessings can come in odd disguises!

Look for instance at his cosy relationships with several dictators of countries the US used to be close to war with. Putin of Russia, Kim of NK and even Xi of China. He gets on remarkably well with these characters, perhaps because they channel a bit of business towards his hotels, or he just enjoys the company of politically strong men. Whatever the reason for this though, this is basically very good news and has reduced tensions a lot. No-one in their right minds would have wanted the alternative of continued or even increasing hostility by a US president towards these characters.

Also look at the lack of new wars started by the US in his time in office. Perhaps because of his need for praise and self-confirmation, he seems to have destroyed the ability of the US State Department and the Pentagon to operate efficiently. As soon as a National Security Adviser gets too comfortable and starts getting things done, Trump fires that person so that someone else has to start again. This has reduced the ability to plan forward, including for new wars.

What is not to like about this? Anyone who, like me, believes the US in previous decades has been too gung-ho in starting new wars should see this internal disruption of the US security establishment as a huge blessing. On his watch, the US have not gone into any new combat zone that I know of, unlike for instance Saint Obama whose bite was worse than his bark.

Look closer at these supposed trade wars that Trump started. For one, his Republican predecessors also initiated trade wars with the EU and China, so there is nothing new here. And also look at how limited the trade wars have truly been. The US is still running a huge trade deficit with China and many announced sanctions get quietly ‘postponed’. Furthermore, the strategic rivalry between China and the US has been coming for a long time and is supported by all parts of the US political establishment.

So look at what has not happened with US-China relations on Trump’s watch. There have been no major incidents in the South China see. There has been no standoff over Taiwan or Japan. There has been little US effort to scupper Chinese investments in Africa or central Asia. Really, one has to say that when it comes to the US-China conflict it is somewhat quiet on the Western front. Lots of noise, little action. The enmity that was inevitably building anyway is so far being channeled in very healthy directions, though seemingly as the unintended consequence.

Relatedly, perhaps the biggest benefit of Trump on the international stage is that he has forced groups of countries together by being so unpredictable and so money-oriented. Under his watch, the Europeans have started combining with the Chinese on finance and the internet, in both cases alerted to their previous weakness by Trump’s weaponisation of these areas. The potential for US (ab)use of their dominance in finance and the internet was already there, but that threat is now being quietly eroded with little fuss because Trump has been using those big sticks for small gains. Trump has used the finance muscle in the case of Iran and the Internet muscle when it comes to 5G and spyware, in both cases alerting others to the presence of the big stick. This is leading to countermoves, such as the French digitax. Bad for the US, probably good for world peace. Thank you Trump.

Trump’s willingness to play hard ball with his allies has, arguably, also lead China and India to be more peaceful to each other. Basically, the Indians don’t seem to trust that the US will stand by them if they really make trouble with China. Thank you Trump.

There are also big silver linings in the increased animosity towards new migrants in the US. What are all these smart ambitious people going to do now they can no longer go to the US? Its obvious: they go to Europe, Latin America, and are thus productive elsewhere. The loss of the US is the gain of others. Once more …. thank you Trump.

We can repeat this for the other instances of Trump misbehaviour, such as on climate change or even on Iran: his bluster and economic violence in those areas have forced cooperation between the rest and are teaching the rest of the world to be more pro-active and serious.

Of course I have skipped over a zillion nuances, but I cannot escape the overall conclusion that Trump has single-handed improved world peace by making friends in unusual places; by upsetting his allies and thus forcing them to make new friends; and by so expertly sabotaging the ability of the American security establishment to make war on others. He may still do a lot of damage in his remaining time in office, but really, you have to say, on the whole: Trump has so far been a blessing in exceptionally good disguise.

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13 Responses to Is Trump a blessing in disguise for world peace?

  1. Nicholas Gruen says:

    All sounds fair enough.

    While we’re doing our contrarian schtick, there’s a reasonable to (sometimes) good case for some of his trade policy shenanigans from the perspective of the US’s unilateral interests (for instance via the optimal tariff argument)– though almost certainly not for the world as a whole (unless he scares his opponents into substantially freer trade which seems unlikely).

    However I remain unconvinced. There might have been a three year Less than Great Moderation, but wait till some good sized crises unfold. Until we get through them I regard Trump’s ‘President as rampaging id’ schtick as simply terrifying.

  2. Pappinbarra Fox says:

    You state: Look for instance at his cosy relationships with several dictators of countries the US used to be close to war with. Putin of Russia, Kim of NK and even Xi of China.
    Maybe that’s true but unless you are privy to the real thinking of these leaders you can’t be sure. What they say in private to their comrades might(and I’d say most certainly is) be quite different to their public non homie when in trumps presence.

  3. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    I wrote about this at my place.He is all bark and no bite.
    The Iranians for example know Trump does not want a war because of the 2020 elections.
    The north koreans have played him also.

    He is only good for world peace if his threats are believed. Since they are not you could say he has been bad for world peace.

  4. Nicholas Gruen says:

    TOO SOON TO TELL

    • paul frijters says:

      there is a joke among historians: “What are the causes of the French Revolution? Too soon to tell.”

      It is by definition too soon to tell what effect Trump will have had by the end of his term(s), but we can certainly comment on what the effect has been so far.

      Just look at the data. World conflict levels are at an unprecedented low level. Really quite spectacularly low. As https://reliefweb.int/report/world/trends-armed-conflict-1946-2018 argues, “There was a significant decline in conflict casualties in 2018, with 23% fewer casualties compared with 2017, and 49% fewer than 2014.”
      That is bloody good news. The post suggests reasons for how Trump might have, unwittingly and unintentionally, contributed to this good news.

      • derrida derider says:

        Actually the “too soon to tell” line is usually attributed to Chou En Lai in response to being asked about the effects, not the causes, of the French Revolution. Its plausible that Chou actually did say that because he was known to quote the Chinese proverb “the first hundred years of a new dynasty are the hardest”.

        Obama took seriously one of his predecessors’ principles of “speak softly and carry a big stick” (attributed to Theodore Rossevelt). Trump’s speaking very loudly is making others prepare their own sticks, as you note.

        But give both Obama and Trump their due; they at least understood that putting GIs into the middle eastern snake pit to help their Saudi and Israeli friends will end in tears for both the locals and the US. That’s something the Washington “international relations” establishment (including Hillary) has been very slow to learn. In fact Trump sacked Bolton over precisely that.

  5. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Steve Pinker would be proud of you.

    Less so David Hume.

  6. Dapper Happer says:

    “For private gain, it seems he drew back American support for the Ukraine government in the hope that this would get them to do his political bidding at home.”

    That part of the story is Democrat party reversalism. Only a minor amendment.

  7. Dave says:

    I enjoy your takes, especially this one.

    Clinton is clearly more competent than Trump in terms of her understanding of foreign affairs, spelling, etc., and so one is inclined to conclude she would better serve the goal of global peace and hence less bloodshed and more good stuff.

    The key difference is that she has an ideology – ie, the diplomatic and military might of the US can be used for good – and Trump merely has self interest.

    Hence his lack of action due to laziness etc. is a blessing because it forces others to step up.

    Fortunately his laziness has also stopped him from forming an ideology, because if he works that out we’re pretty screwed.

    • derrida derider says:

      I think that’s almost the reverse of the truth. You’re right that Hillary and her ilk act out of ideology rather than Trumpian conceit but their ideology is one that has resulted in the US enjoying just 7 years of peace since WW2.

      They are warmongers, and the fact that they believe their warmongering will make a better world is beside the point. So do all warmongers.

      From this POV Paul is quite right. Trump’s virtue is that he knows war is bad for business, especially his. And his secondary virtue is that if he does try warmongering he will make a massive meal of it by pissing off all potential allies.

      • paul frijters says:

        ” Trump’s virtue is that he knows war is bad for business, especially his. And his secondary virtue is that if he does try warmongering he will make a massive meal of it by pissing off all potential allies.”

        +1

  8. Sandy says:

    it seems he is, “Reminder: International relations is not a beauty pageant, with tired clichés about a desire for WORLD PEACE. And it is not the first time that a warmonger claims he is waging war for ‘world peace,'” Zarif said on Twitter. “Tantrums & CAPPED TWEETS won’t change the fact that the world is sick & tired of US unilateralism. Stopping US trade and killing 100K US jobs is fine with us, but the world won’t follow impulsive tweeted diktats. Just ask EU, Russia, China & dozens of our other trading partners.”

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