Welcome to This American Carnage, your weekly slice of life from the country of Trump.
Another February, another Munich Security Conference, a.k.a. the “world’s most prestigious geopolitical gathering.” This time, though, the conference will take place as a resurgent, anti-globalist far right threatens to throw a wrench in the usual workings of international affairs.
As mournful tributes to Pax Americana reach a fever pitch in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, world leaders from at least seventy countries will convene in Germany from February 17 to 19. The conference, which has been held annually since 1963, provides a good gauge of what is occupying the thoughts of international leaders—and this year, you can bet it will be the elephant in the room of the West.
Vice president Mike Pence and defense secretary James Mattis have been confirmed as attendees—and both, as key members of the Trump administration, may find the conference awkward, given its focus on the new president’s destabilizing effect on international security.
The 2017 edition of the Munich Security Report—the conference’s annual report—focuses on the creation of a “post-truth,” “post-West,” and “post-order” world, with Trump at the center. In a section focusing on the United States, entitled “Trump’s Cards,” the authors lay out, with brutal honesty, the hopes and concerns that have been swirling around international policy circles:
The hope is that Trump is trying to keep as many options and bargaining chips as possible, but that the cards he chooses to play may not be as disruptive or confrontational as feared. The worries are that Trump will embark on a foreign policy based on superficial quick wins, zero-sum games, and mostly bilateral transactions – and that he may ignore the value of international order building, steady alliances, and strategic thinking. Or, maybe worse, that he sees foreign and security policy as a game to be used whenever he needs distractions for domestic political purposes.
In short, world leaders are in a perpetual state of anxiety, eagerly watching Trump’s every move in an effort to intuit his grand plan. Or, in dull policy wonk terms, the real question is: What will become of the United States’ once supposedly indispensable role in the world? The fissures in Trump’s ideology and worldview have become apparent in the early days of the administration, and they’re particularly evident in his eclectic foreign policy.
Bemoaning American unilateralism is hardly a new pastime for the global foreign policy elite, but it has taken on a new sense of urgency. From Mattis’s recent “ultimatum” to NATO to the ongoing kerfuffle over the administration’s ties to Russia, the Trump White House’s message to its European allies—whose perspective will be well-represented at the conference—has been a confusing, and cold, one. In the end, the report continues, “a unilateralist Trump administration may find that it has a different hand than it currently thinks.”
You can read the report in full here.