The US President-elect Donald Trump has admitted that he likes to keep people guessing. He’s a master manipulator as his book The Art of the Deal proudly portrays. “You tell a lie three times, they will believe anything. You tell people what they want to hear, play to their fantasies and then you close the deal,” he wrote. It worked like a dream during the campaign.
In less than two weeks, his biggest deal of all will finally be sealed. Only then will Americans and world leaders be able to distinguish between Trump the showman and the real deal of a man, who, according to some of his closest friends, is a charming, charismatic bon-vivant and a genuine patriot.
Without doubt many of those who perceive Trump as a saviour are in for a disappointment. His reach-out to veterans was overwhelmingly successful, but his plan to privatise veterans’ health care has dampened their enthusiasm.
His vow to get coal miners back to work, which helped him win Pennsylvania and Ohio, has been made harder to keep thanks to President Barack Obama’s parting regulatory shot and the fact that coal production is no longer economically viable due to cheaper oil and natural gas. Moreover, if he’s serious about imposing up to 45 per cent tariffs on Chinese imports to protect American manufacturers, that will not only result in inflation impacting the working class, but could incur World Trade Organisation penalties and kick-off a trade war that experts assert China is best-placed to win. Likewise, the governments of Canada and Mexico wait to see if Trump is serious about either renegotiating or dumping North American Free Trade Agreement. Canada says it would be willing to renegotiate terms. Mexico has flatly refused.
On the foreign policy front, heads of state are breathlessly waiting to know the score in the realisation that what Trump says now and what he will do are two different things. In this connection, President Vladimir Putin of Russia springs to mind.
Putin hopes for a reset in relations between Moscow and Washington, which he blames Obama for souring. Putin feels that his nation has been disrespected by the US in recent years and he wants to work with the new White House to resolve international crises provided the US sanctions are lifted and Russia is placed on an equal footing.
Signs are that he may get his wish; at least in the short term; that’s if Trump can skilfully manoeuvre between opening a new chapter with Russia — moving on — as he put it, with the hawkish anti-Russian sentiments expressed by senior figures in his own party. There is little divergence between the two men’s policies on Syria. Both see the need for eliminating terrorist elements and Trump has in the past referred to Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad as “a natural ally” in the fight against Daesh.
Trump tends to gravitate towards strongmen, and may be inclined to support Putin’s pick to head Libya, General Khalifa Haftar, whose forces have wrested back territory, including oil ports, from the control of Daesh, the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Trump’s senior security adviser James Woolsey says his boss will make the destruction of Daesh a priority, including in Libya.
However, despite what’s touted by the mainstream media as a Trump-Putin ‘bromance’, cracks in their tentatively friendly relationship could show-up once the US and Russian interests diverge. If there comes a time when those two massive egos clash, prepare for … well … anything. China could be a point of contention and so could Iran given Trump’s hostility to the nuclear deal.
There is arguably no one salivating more at the thought of Trump getting his feet under his new desk than the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump slammed Obama’s decision not to veto a recent UN resolution reaffirming the illegality of colony construction which he believes constitutes no obstacle to peace, and has given his approval for the US embassy to be relocated to Jerusalem.
Yet, he has also sworn to effect an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement, he characterises as “the ultimate deal” — and he has appointed Jason Greenblatt, a real estate lawyer and former Israeli West Bank colonist and armed guard to begin the process!
It’s not clear what British Prime Minister Theresa May really thinks of Trump. But she definitely wants to get in his good graces. She broke the ‘special relationship’s unwritten rule with her condemnation of John Kerry for a speech in which he criticises Israeli colonies as an obstacle to a two-state solution, even though his words echoed Britain’s long-held position.
Let’s not forget that among the cheerers and appeasers waiting for January 20th to dawn, there are millions of Americans, among them American-Muslims and undocumented migrants, living in terror of what the future might hold if Trump implements his campaign threats.
Uncertainty has become the new normal. The day Trump comes clean on his actual policies, strategies and global friends lists can’t come soon enough!
— Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.