Butler, Richard: Trump: a sideshow?

Richard Butler

Trump: a sideshow?Pearls and Irritations, 27 January 2017 updated

Update 5 March 2017: More from Butler on Trump and the implications for Australia.

Update 9 February 2017: related piece by Ramesh Thakur in Pearls and Irritations on whether Trump’s erratic personality and chaotic style will destroy his presidency.

Update 3 February 2017: Butler extends and to some extent revises the arguments below.

‘It is not only Trump that has assumed power in the US’ says Butler, ‘but also a set of deeply ideological and introverted Republicans. Both will shape US policy and actions. Australia should now review the conduct of its relationship with the US, and develop an independent foreign policy, freed from the dictates of internal US politics.’ Butler points out that Trump ‘is a Republican in name only’ but he has delivered the Republicans control of all arms of the US federal government to go with their lock over state governments.

Senior Republicans will be trying to manage the loose cannon in the White House. ‘Such things [Trump’s antics] are a sideshow, and thus can be glittering, but they do not constitute a remotely full or rational picture of what has happened and is going to unfold.’ Trump will be unable to deliver on or will back away from his domestic agenda and the meaning of ‘America First’ in international relations is still uncertain, while it will add to existing instability.

As for Australia, we need to take advantage of the current opportunity for independence in foreign and defence policy,  renew efforts to control nuclear arms, focus sharply on how enmeshed we are with US nuclear strategy and how this makes us a target, maintain a constructive relationship with both China and the United States, and, finally, recognise how US decisions for war benefit its arms industry and how much this industry influences US policy. (On this last point, see the Honest History 2014 post on whether arms spending leads to war.)

Richard Butler is a former senior Australian diplomat. Pearls and Irritations is the blog of former senior public servant, John Menadue. Both Butler and Menadue are distinguished supporters of Honest History. The Honest History Book, to be published in April by NewSouth, includes a chapter by Honest History vice president, Alison Broinowski, called ‘Australia’s tug of war: Militarism versus independence’ which looks at the history of Australian foreign and defence policy and whether the arrival of Trump offers opportunities for new directions for Australia.

Foreign Policy magazine in the United States this week included an article by Dan De Luce on whether Trump’s China policy, as spelled out by Secretary of State Tillerson, would mean stumbling into a crisis. Australia is not mentioned in the article.

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