Home' Defence Review Asia : DRA Jan-Feb 2017 Contents Donald Trump has only been in power a short time
but already the repercussions are being felt on the
international stage. The 120-day ban on accepting
refugees from predominantly Muslim countries -- Iran, Iraq,
Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen & Somalia -- and a parallel three
month halt to immigration from those same places will not
improve U.S. security. However, any rationality in all of this
seems beside the point with many of those 60 million people
in the U.S. who voted for him presumably wildly excited by
It is important to understand why not only the U.S. but also
other large sections of the western world has succumbed to
the near hysteria about violent Islamic extremism that has led to
current circumstances. Firstly, it is clear that there are plenty of
events taking place that are a genuine cause for concern, such
as the rise -- and now possible decline - of the Islamic state.
The lingering consequences of the 9/11 attacks are also
deeply embedded, particularly in the U.S. psyche.
In the decade 2005 to 2015 a total of 94 people were killed
in the U.S. by jihadi extremists. In parallel, a similar number --
many of them law enforcement officers -- were killed by violent
right wing and racially motived individuals. During the same
period, 302,000 Americans died because of gun deaths. In
other words, people are 3,000 times more likely to be killed
by a fellow citizen with a gun than they are likely to die from
violent jihadi extremism -- so where is the logic to a travel ban
effecting seven predominantly Islamic countries, which by the
way excludes the two largest sources of terrorists, Pakistan
and Saudi Arabia?
A partial explanation for this over-reaction is the old
combination of the media and unscrupulous politicians.
Editors and circulation managers learned a long time ago
that if they could get the terms "violent jihadi extremist" into
their headlines as well as in the body of the story then the
number of clicks they received rose astronomically. This is
also part of a loop that fits in with the entertainment industry,
again with Islam often the enemy -- think of the very popular
'American Sniper', which conflated 9/11 with the 2003
invasion of Iraq. If any single country deserved to be invaded
by the U.S. it was Saudi Arabia, from where almost all of the
hijackers came from.
This is a difficult problem to fix, and it is good to see
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushing back, who
correctly called the attack on the Quebec mosque that killed
six an act of anti-Islamic terrorism. The author remembers
being in New York last August when an Imam and his assistant
-- walking home after prayers -- were executed in broad
daylight, shot repeatedly in the head while standing on a street
corner. By any measure this looked like an act of violent anti-
Islamic terrorism, but the local media and politicians variously
offered no explanation at all, or called it a generic "hate crime."
Until some rationality comes back into the debate about
Islam and the conflicts in the Middle East we can expect the
current polarising debate to continue -- and by the look of
things the Trump administration seems determined to make
the situation worse, not better. As well as President Trump
himself, it would seem that many of his inner circle led by
Steve Bannon -- ex of Breitbart, the right wing fantasist fake
news site -- shares views about Islam that seems based on the
notion that some form of religious war is now taking place.
If this view prevails, the consequences for U.S. foreign
policy will be profound. During the Presidential campaign,
Donald Trump spoke often about the need to seize Iraq's oil
as a way of paying for the war and depriving the Islamic State
of the resource. Apart from the illegality of the act, Iraq's huge
petroleum reserves are located deep underground -- they are
not sitting in a nice container somewhere that could be picked
up and transported to the continental United States. Since
becoming President, he has continued to darkly hint that there
are military actions that could be taken -- presumably some
form of semi-permanent Army of occupation while Halliburton
pumps the country dry.
The potential dangers for our region from foreign policy
adventurism are profound. There are several flash points,
possibly top of the list being Taiwan and the One China policy
that the world has been following for decades. If the U.S.
reverses that then relations with Beijing -- already obviously
strained -- will plummet to rock bottom. If this is accompanied
by some sort of clash in the South China Sea, either accidental
or deliberate, the danger of a major armed conflict will be very
real. Added to this mix is now the possibility, no matter how
remote, of a pre-emptive U.S. strike on North Korea, which
would be opposed by China.
Even leaving aside the military part of the equation,
President Trump's economic policies could also have
a profoundly destabilising effect. Having continued his
rhetoric about China being a currency manipulator, he has
now added close ally Japan to that list. If he starts slapping
tariffs on imports then those countries will immediately
retaliate and from there it will be a rapid downward spiral
that at the very least will slow world economic growth and
at worst throw it dramatically into reverse.
There is not much that the rest of the world can do.
President Trump was elected almost entirely for domestic
reasons and he will be there for at least the next four
years. He is now delivering the policies that he has been
advocating for years -- so fingers crossed that everything
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FOREIGN POLICY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP
4 DefenceReviewAsia | JAN-FEB 2017
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