Since the dawn of President Trump we have been hearing “America First” slogan, which has also been on road to becoming the basis of his foreign policy too. Already, ultra-nationalism dominates Trump’s personality when it comes to looking at the world affairs. There is a lot of hue and cry inside America on Trump’s nationalist, values-neutral, anti-refugee, anti-immigration, and anti-free-trade ideology. Right from his election campaign, he stands for burden sharing in terms of economy from America’s traditional allies in the Europe. He believes that the US blood and economy is not free for the security of its allies in particular and of the world in general. He tends to follow an inward looking policy to fix the problems mainly economic inside the country before investing on aggressive foreign policy unlike the past governments. He believes that the core economic interests of the US have been compromised in the past in terms of unfair trade, which did harm American people.
Lately, the US role of global leadership has been under discussion by many foreign policy experts since President Trump entered the Oval office. Protecting American interests has preoccupied Trump and in the process he has damaged the trust between the US and its major European allies while translating his “Making America Great Again” slogan into reality. In retrospect, nation-states, including America, have seen both greatness and hard times but to measure “greatness” is both difficult and unrealistic as it cannot be measured. Greatness comes from the fact that how outside world looks at the particular country. If exclusiveness is the greatness, like the existing government under President Trump has been following, America is not going to be great in the world. But at the same time, there is a dominant discourse and consensus among the political elite, both Republicans and Democrats, in the country that America should be leading the world the way it used to. Interestingly, the rank and file in America has grievances that too much involvement in world crises coupled with globalization has damaged their lives in terms of economy, which President Trump knows very well and he is doing what they want.
America pulled off from “Paris Accord” on climate change and it stood alone probably for the first time in history when around 190 states stood for the same. Even North Korea, though debatable but considered to be the biggest threat to the US in general and the Western world in general, signed the deal on environment but not America. On commenting Paris deal, the former Secretary of State John F. Kerry told CBS Evening News that “this step does not make America first…It makes America last.” America, under President Trump, has refused to certify and is rather adamant to pull off from the Iranian nuclear deal recently, which did annoy the US allies in Europe who were also part of the deal. Also, the European allies have concerns on Trump’s commitment on NATO.
US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, while giving his speech to US Department of State employees on May 3, 2017, had tried to explain “America First” by saying that it was “America first for national security and economic prosperity.” Tillerson also stressed that the job of State Department employees is to promote American prosperity and security with little regard for the internal issues of other countries that are not related to those two goals, according to Dennis Jett. During Arab/Islamic-American Summit in Saudi Arabia on May 21, 2017, President Trump further elaborated his “America First” policy: “America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture – we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship…” This was subtle “go ahead with your systems” indication by him to Arab countries.
On the contrary, the former US President Obama had believed on taking along American allies in world issues. He often talked about core American values, i.e. human rights and democracy around the world. Engagement and integration were the two prime objectives of Obama while looking at American foreign policy. White House under President Trump seems to be the first in decades, which disagrees with allies on many issues. Analysts believe that Trump’s “America First” foreign policy could alter the global order resulting in more active role of China and Russia in the world affairs. Go-it-alone foreign policy that too by the sole super power might create delays in resolution of existing issues the world faces today as these issues are so numerous, enormous, and complex in nature that no single country could be able to resolve. The world community, especially the major powers including America, needs to join hands in resolving these issues. “America First” must be translated into making the world realize that America would always be the first when it comes to engagement with world community in resolving the world issues as exclusiveness is neither going to work for the dynamic world order nor for America itself.
Article originally published in Regional Rapport on October 27, 2017.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.