Listening to Donald Trump’s egotistical take, you’d think his loud business personality translates perfectly into international politics. Mexico acting up? No matter; he’ll hop on the phone and curse Mexico out. China spiffing us in trade deals? Who cares! A solution is a phone call and an immature insult away. “Your country sucks, China!” Problem solved.
Except while that might work on TV, it would backfire in reality. As several commentators have already pointed out, Trump’s “refusal to act diplomatically [would be] catastrophic for the lead diplomat of the United States.” Diplomacy requires subtlety, tact and restraint — something everyone from Sun Tzu to Henry Kissinger agrees on. But screaming insults like a petulant toddler? That sort of behavior is best left on The Apprentice.
I’m not saying business experience has no place in politics. It obviously does. Outsiders bring valuable insights into the political process, and a more realistic representation of how business works — stressing restraint and negotiation over needless offense — translates extremely well into international diplomacy.
But Trump’s view of how his own bombastic business personality would play in the political realm is remarkably shortsighted. He speaks of countries as if they were individuals, and he acts like solutions to complex problems lie in three-word slogans. That pithy ideology might work for Trump’s personal life, but it would spell disaster if adopted by the president of the United States. In Trump’s worldview as presented thus far, one gets the impression that Israel-Palestine can be solved by a few stern phone calls and maybe a fancy steak dinner afterwards. If that fails, then bombs should do the trick. Yeah right.
Obviously, Trump’s oversimplification of international relations has appeal. Most people don’t have the background knowledge, the patience, or the time to truly consider the intricacies of, say, the development of ISIL. As Robert Greene writes in The 48 Laws of Power, short mantras have an intrinsic draw, a resonance that longer, more nuanced takes on things just don’t have. And that’s fine — for the average citizen. But the president of the United States, wielding a governmental branch clothed in immense executive power, should have a more thorough understanding of foreign policy.
He or she should understand that illegal immigration is not a problem the Mexican government alone can control, or that empirical evidence suggests undocumented immigrants actually commit less crime than native-born Americans. He or she should acknowledge that a disgusting phenomenon like ISIL has complex political, religious, and historical underpinnings that will not be, cannot be, dismantled by a few well-placed explosives — rhetorical or military. A responsible president should know that criticisms of China and Japan for manipulating currency should be restrained and qualified, to acknowledge (for example) Japan’s two decades of careful economic policy aimed at counteracting slumping fiscal performance. And so on.
Because in foreign policy, jabs aren’t taken lightly; and unlike in Trump’s business affairs, insulting a country ticks off a heck of a lot more people than the one person on the other side of the phone line.
Business isn’t simple; foreign policy isn’t either. If Trump wants to be taken seriously by the general electorate, he should demonstrate the nuanced understanding of foreign policy exemplified by candidates ranging from Jeb Bush to Hillary Clinton.
As things stand now, the world is far too dangerous and complex a place for Donald Trump to be at its helm, his hand hovering over the nuclear button, ready to shout “you’re fired!” at anyone who ticks him off.
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