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World Reaction to Trump’s 'America First' Policy

3/8/2017 Anant Goel & Alan Kyle Goel

President Trump’s inaugural speech will go down as one of the shorter addresses, but it will also be remembered for its populist and often dark tone.

“From this day forward,” Trump said at one point, “it’s going to be only America first…”

Trump appears to have first used the phrase in March 2016 in an interview with The New York Times, when he denied he was an isolationist. “I’m not isolationist, but I am ‘America First,’” he said. “So I like the expression. I’m ‘America First.’”

The phrase in itself might provide comfort to Trump supporters who have long railed against what they see as lawmakers in Washington catering to special interests, corporations, and other countries at the expense of, in their view, the American worker. But the phrase “America first” also has a darker recent history and was associated with opponents of the U.S. entering World War II.

“Assuming he is aware of at least some of that history, Trump is demonstrating his confidence that his adoption of a phrase can supersede its past.” The president may say he wants “America first” to mean “we will not be ripped off anymore,” but shaking off the phrase’s ugly past, especially after an inauguration speech that offered little outreach to the millions of Americans who fear what his presidency may bring, could prove difficult.

What it means to the world…

Trump’s America is not the only nation with self interest at the global stage. Other most recent examples of presenting self interest in universal terms come from China and Russia. At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, the Chinese President Xi Jinping claimed leadership of the global economic order amidst the US President Donald Trump’s emphasis on “America First”. Last week at the annual Munich Security Forum, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a “post-West world order”.

Behind this sweeping rhetoric is a different reality — Russia and China are eager to negotiate with Trump’s Washington and are assessing its strengths and weaknesses. Moscow and Beijing have never allowed ideology to come in the way of working with Washington. As for India, Delhi must resist the temptation to see the new round of great power politics in ideological terms. Instead, Delhi should prepare itself to secure India’s vital interests amidst the current international flux.

Amidst the widespread accusations that the Russian President Vladimir Putin is undermining the liberal international order and that Trump has become his willing accomplice, there was much interest in Munich on the future of the US-Russia relationship and its consequences for Eurasia.

Denying that Russia has any reason to undermine the global order, Lavrov blamed the expansion of the Western military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for the current turbulence in Europe. He went to define the order for a new framework for global security: “If you want, you can call it a post-West world order when each country, based on its sovereignty within the rules of international law, will strive to find a balance between its own national interests and the national interests of partners.”

Forget Lavrov’s throw away phrase — the “post-West world” — and his rhetoric on sovereignty and international law. Lavrov’s real preoccupation was the construction of a new power-sharing arrangement between Moscow and Washington in Europe. Lavrov reminded the Munich audience that the agreements between Russia and the West at the end of the Cold War called on the two sides “to jointly provide security, based on respect for each other’s interests, to enhance mutual trust, prevent a split in the Euro-Atlantic area, and to erase the dividing lines”. Even as he called it a Cold War relic, Lavrov offered to resume the engagement with NATO. He also sought a pragmatic partnership with America on the basis of “mutual respect” and the shared “special responsibility for global stability,” Lavrov said. “We have immense potential that has yet to be tapped into, and we’re open to that inasmuch as the US is open to that as well,” the Russian foreign minister added.

Moscow’s signals on accommodation have not got through to the wider public amidst the current hostility to Russia in the Western establishments. But in Washington, Trump appears to be holding firm on his belief that improved relations with Russia are good for the United States. Despite the media insinuations that he is a “Russian poodle”, continuing allegations on his campaign’s Russian connections, the growing political demand for a formal investigation into Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, and the strong resistance in Washington to any rapprochement with Putin, Trump has not backed off.

As Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis reaffirmed the new administration’s commitment to European allies and NATO, secretary of state, Rex Tillerson sat down with Lavrov for the first substantive round of consultations last week. While few details have emerged from this conversation, Lavrov described the talks as “pragmatic and businesslike” and said that “we noted the existence of common interests, primarily in terms of the fight against terrorism.” If the idea of a deal with Russia has survived Trump’s first 45 days at the White House, the jury is out on how long it might endure.

Even if the political environment becomes permissive for a “grand bargain” between America and Russia, the devil will remain in the detail.

Trump and Putin will not find it easy to align their current national positions on issues ranging from Ukraine and Syria to nuclear arms control and cyber security. Whether they succeed or fail, Trump and Putin could alter the shape of great power politics that emerged over the last quarter of a century.
[Curated content based on excerpts from posts, blogs, media articles, and sponsored research]
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