hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Thursday, 2 February 2017

How to Influence and not Influence President Trump

“The law of the strong is the determining factor in statecraft….the most effective form of government is one that incorporates the most powerful forces within the state”.
Ludwig von Rochau

Alphen, Netherlands. 2 February. Welcome back to the new age of Realpolitik and the dark arts of statecraft. Sad then that so much of British and wider European academia seems to be in wilful denial. Yesterday, I received a round-robin email from a Cambridge academic that began with the self-righteous sentence: “Dear All, I think everybody is agreed that Donald Trump is a threat to NATO, the EU and the western liberal order generally”. Now, as an Oxford man I suppose I could make some cheap shot about Cambridge academics. Sadly, politically correct, leftist political dogma presented as fact is too often what passes for evidence-free analysis across too much of British academia these days. There are two questions yesterday’s missive poses. Firstly, what is driving the retreat from strategic reason in Europe? Secondly, how best to influence a President Trump who remains vital to the security, defence, and stability of Europe?

Ultra-Liberal Democracy-Denying Hysteria Syndrome has again been in full flow this past week in Britain. This time the PC ‘let me off the real world’ brigade are protesting about the planned state visit by President Trump to Britain. Cheered on by media ‘luvvies’ at the BBC much has been made of an online petition that has drawn some two million signatures calling for the planned Trump visit to be cancelled. And yet, and not untypically, the BBC made very little of yesterday’s YouGov poll that showed 49% of those asked want President Trump to visit Britain, against 36% who do not.

Why the self-righteous kerfuffle? There is no question that the roll-out of President Trump’s Executive Order temporarily curtailing entry to the United States of citizens from seven countries in the Middle East has been handled with catastrophic cack-handedness. If there is a criticism to be made of the Order it is that President Trump is playing politics with strategy. In 2011 President Obama signed a similar order after it emerged that US vetting procedures were inadequate. In other words, the need to establish systems to protect the American people from terrorists posing as refugees are already in place. This White House Order is merely to pander to President Trump’s electoral base.
What is behind much of the protest has nothing actually to do with the Order itself. There is a paradoxically intolerant ‘ultra-liberal’ caste that refuses to accept a fundamental principle of democracy; that one accepts the legitimacy of a vote even if one profoundly disagrees with it. For the past twenty years or so this caste and their beloved ‘isms’ has been in the ascendancy, and by and large ridden roughshod over the concerns of millions of people about globalisation, mass-immigration et al. Brexit and President Trump are but two examples of their decline and they are determined to fight it by whatever means they can.

However, the more important question now is how best to influence the rough-edged but democratically-legitimate President Trump. In fact, the two questions come together at this point. President Trump himself reflects the decline of the western liberal order, a retreat that has been hastened by Europe’s retreat into strategic la la land. The rise of China and the re-emergence of President Putin’s Russia now sees the harsh Realpolitik of the new East matched by the business Realpolitik of President Trump, with powerless Europeans lost in an ocean-wide abyss of irrelevance in between.

This irrelevance was evident in President Tusk’s absurd suggestion yesterday that President Trump’s America, the very country that guarantees his freedom to speak nonsense, is now such a threat to ‘Europe’ that it ranks alongside China and Russia. Of course, the likes of presidents Trump, Erdogan, Putin, and quite possibly in time President Xi, are going to do deals over the heads of Europeans. Europeans have brought such impotence upon themselves by retreating these past decades into empty institutionalism and by refusing to heed the historic lessons of power and influence.

The one European leader who seems to understand this is British Prime Minister Theresa May. She was absolutely right to a) go to Washington quickly; and b) invite President Trump to Britain for a state visit. Right now, given Brexit, Britain needs the US as much as at any time since 1940. Europe does too. And yes, there will be a price. That is Realpolitik, der! Therefore, rather concentrate on finding new and novel ways to gratuitously offend President Trump Europeans should instead concentrate on how best to constructively influence him. That means at the very least Europeans coming down from their whining city on a molehill and re-learning the arts, sometimes dark arts, of statecraft.    

Here’s the twist. My instincts are in some ways those of the ultra-liberals. However, I am a pragmatic liberal, in line with most of the 49% of Britons who want President Trump to visit Britain. I also have a profound understanding of history, power and statecraft, which the ultra-liberals seems to wilfully ignore. Therefore, if I want my liberal values to eventually prevail in this hyper-competitive world I recognise I need the power and the argument to convince both friends and adversaries. The argument of weakness, however loud, indignant and obnoxious, is no argument at all.

Maybe one day a Cambridge academic might learn…but then again it is Cambridge.

Julian Lindley-French

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