By Mohammad Bahrampour

Trump Box

May 12, 2019

TEHRAN - What is going on? This is a $1M question when we want to understand Donald Trump and its Administration. But I have a dream to be a millionaire! So let’s do it. Before the winning of the presidential election, most of the analysts, especially in CNN, said that world will be madder with Donald Trump as the US president. It seems that they have come true. But I think slightly different and want to see other side of it.

His slogans were “Make America Great Again” and “America First”. Those are the best proofs for declinists’ arguments. It is easy to find them around ourselves. Dennis Prager, a declinist, said that American family, education and morality are in decline. He saw movements such as LGBT as decay of American family and society. Recent approaches in trying to pass antiabortion laws in the US are first steps toward opposing this decay or decline. Likewise, Noam Chomsky wrote in 2011 that “the decline has in fact been proceeding since the high point of US power shortly after World War II, and the remarkable rhetoric of the several years of triumphalism in the 1990s was mostly self-delusion”. 

But we should see ourselves to believe it. Generally, US power is based on its military, economy and soft power.

Based on Globalfirepower.com, US is first in world military strength. But in the last decade, US military has seen a shrinkage in size and becoming old in personnel and equipment. Heritage Foundation reported in October 2018 that “the active component of the US military is two-thirds the size it should be, operates equipment that is older than should be the case, and is burdened by readiness levels that are problematic. Accordingly … Marine Corps (is) Weak … (and) the current US military force is likely capable of meeting the demands of a single major regional conflict  … but that it would be very hard-pressed to do more and certainly would be ill-equipped to handle two nearly simultaneous major regional contingencies”. US cybersecurity situation after the allegations of Russian intervention in its presidential election is the other sign of the weakness of US power.  

In the economy, there is a trade war between China and US. In many forecasts about the future of the world economy, name of China is at first. Based on the statistics reported by United States Census Bureau, in the first quarter of 2019, US trade in goods with china has experienced the $27213M of exports and $118825M of imports. They call it trade deficit. The US trade in Goods and Services in the 2018 with China saw the $378734M of trade deficit with $179917M exports and $558651M of imports from china. The trade deficit in Goods trade with France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Italy and India in the first Quarter of 2019 is respectively $5152, $17225, $18093, $23547, $8477 and $5838M. The most notable positive numbers in the balance column of the chart is for Brazil ($2627M), Hong Kong ($7037M) and United Kingdom ($2720M). This gap is haunting on the US economy and latest efforts by Donald Trump to impose many tariffs on Chinese goods are a way out of it. 

In the soft power area, the US situation is worse. The US is (or was) the model of freedom, democracy and prosperity by the name of Happiness. Its freedom statue with its shining torch is (or was) the symbol of its soft power. But it seems that the Dark Age has come. By the latest report of the Freedom House, freedom in the world has recorded global decline in political rights and civil liberties for an alarming 13 consecutive years, from 2005 to 2018. It accents on “the United States in Decline” and reports that the score of US is 86 (out of 100) and is less than UK, France and Germany and that “while democracy in America remains robust by global standards, it has weakened significantly over the past eight years, and the current president’s ongoing attacks on the rule of law, fact-based journalism, and other principles and norms of democracy threaten further decline”. In this regard, a Global Ranking of Soft Power, published by USC Center on Public Diplomacy, has assessed the US on 4th of the global ranking in 2018, after UK, France and Germany. Its methodology is based on Government, Culture, Education and Foreign policy, to name some. The 2018 report asserts that “’America first’ does not play well with audiences abroad. Last year’s international polling data for the US was unequivocal in showing a severe drop in favorability towards the US. 

Donald Trump is the son of this decline. He tries to reverse it and make America great “again”. He knows best that its military capability is shrinking and the US is being to lose its military edge with China and Russia. Look at latest reports on the new military activities of Russia or China – especially about the second Chinese aircraft carrier. They are full of fear of losing the ground to them. The uproars about Huawei is the other sign of this fear in American policymakers. In other areas of economic and political power the US is losing the ground to other players and seeks to reverse it by withdrawing from global treaties and organizations and tries to make new ones, to impose its power “again”. But all of them is (and will be) futile. 

In 8 May 2019, The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD - a conservative think tank in the US), held a conference by this title: “Rising to the threat: Revitalizing America’s Military and Political Power”. There is no need to interpret the written words. In that conference CENTCOM’s Commander General McKenzie said that: “Let me be perfectly clear: the long-term, enduring, most significant threat to stability in CENTCOM’s areas of responsibility is Iran”.

In response to this threat, the Trump Administration withdrew from the JCPOA and now has imposed new sanctions on the Iranian mining and steel sectors and threatens Iran by sending its B-52s and USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier to Mideast to confront the so called “Iran Threats”. Let me be perfectly clear, the US has lost his superiority in power. The power is symmetrical and asymmetrical. Iran has its tools in both areas. 

In my view, US strategy before conflict is “Gunboat Diplomacy”. It means that, it uses every means of preventing the conflict by threatening to do very drastic things, but does nothing. When there is a real confrontation, it seems the US is deaf and blind. Recent North Korean missile tests are the best examples. Venezuela is the other. Everything was ready to topple Maduro by the coup d’état. But the response of the Trump Administration was: we are supporting you without any spending our resources. This shows us the second part of US strategy, i.e. in the field. In the conflict or confrontation or even war, the US is offshore. It is the advice of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. In “Offshore Balancing”, great power seeks to use regional powers to achieve its goals.

In Iran’s case, these regional balancers are Terrorist Groups, UAE, KSA and Israel. So there will be no confrontation with US, in war sort of thing. There is also the probability of using the drones or missiles by US’ “brave” commanders but the aftermath is by Iran. So there will be no war and Trump will seek to negotiate with Iranian government and all the rhetoric is a tactic to demoralize Iranians.

Global players are also in the same boat with Iran. Best approach to recent escalations by Trump Administration is to strengthening the relations with other global players around the conceptions such as multilateralism. Germany and France will seek to establish an “Alliance for Multilateralism” in the next UN General Assembly, and Iran should seek to join it.

At the end, it should be said that, President Reagan used to call America a “shining city on a hill” and Donald Trump Administration knows that the US has lost its shining and only tries to keep its hill. What will jump out of Trump Box will be threatening for a while but after it, there will be a fun, as a jack in the box. So be calm, the king is naked.  

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