"If Trump wins, our work as diplomats is going to get significantly more harder," an American diplomat said to me a few weeks before the American elections were set to take place. "But I doubt he will win," he continued, but with a hidden yet audible hesitation in his voice. However, the story of American politics was to turn on its head on 9 November as Trump defeated his Democrat rival Hillary Clinton to become the next person to take over the world's most powerful office.
A lot has been said about Trump and what the victory means and indicates not only for America and its people, but the world and the global order itself. Even though certain traction of discourse in the US continues to debate whether the United States still needs to be the policeman of the world, a thought process that gained a lot of momentum after the failures in the second Iraqi invasion, President-elect Trump's vision could be drastically different and challenge the foundations of America's outlook towards the world that we all have become used to.
Today, even ISIS has managed to gain a foothold in the ungoverned badlands of Libya, thanks to a poorly thought-out strategy orchestrated by Western powers and their backed leaders in Tripoli's transitional government structures
For example, former US army soldier and now scholar Scott Beauchamp made a pertinent statement in a 2014 essay. 'America doesn't need to lead the free world', he said. He recalled political scientist Barry Posen's term 'liberal hegemony', using it to describe the Washington political clique in-charge of the country's foreign policy narrative. One example where the world strongly contested this clique's interventionist policy-making was in the Libyan crisis of 2011, where Western powers moved in to install a no-fly zone so as to help rebels dethrone long-time despot Muammar Gaddafi. However, this decision was gravely criticised, and rightly so, for creating a power vacuum in an already precarious country. Today, even ISIS has managed to gain a foothold in the ungoverned badlands of Libya, thanks to a poorly thought-out strategy orchestrated by Western powers and their backed leaders in Tripoli's transitional government structures. But even as the above gels with Beauchamp's argument, there is a counter-narrative, one that has been highlighted by President Barack Obama himself.
During his final foreign trip to Europe, skipping from Greece to Germany and trying his very best to reassure the world and America's allies (not very convincingly) that the Trump government is going to be responsible, Obama looked and sounded worried skeptical himself. 'The US is asked what it plans to do whenever an issue comes up somewhere in the world', he said upon being asked about the future of America's global hegemonic interests and values in Berlin. However, regarding the US's global policing role, despite huge failures in recent past such as Iraq and Libya, many still believe it is the only country capable of restoring order anywhere on the planet.
One of the gross failures of this American electoral process has been in fact that much of the debates actually never approached to focus on Trump's policies
Shadi Hamid, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, defended the West's intervention into Libya. "Critics erroneously compare Libya today to a number of false ideals, but this is not the correct way to evaluate the success or failure of the intervention. To do that, we should compare Libya today to what Libya would have looked like if we (the West) hadn't intervened. By the standard, the Libya intervention was successful: The country is better off today than it would have been had the international community allowed dictator Muammar Gaddafi to continue his rampage across the country," Hamid wrote in a highly contestable piece.
It is, however, time now for the discourse to shift as well. Even as much of the American media chastised Donald Trump, more than often for good reasons, as the premiere candidate for the Republicans, the debates now need to accept his victory and move to what the new leader of the free world intends to do to safeguard and strengthen the liberties and rights that the country's democracy enjoys.
One of the gross failures of this American electoral process has been in fact that much of the debates actually never approached to focus on Trump's policies, but were buried under scrutinising the long list of audacious and 'shock-and-awe' laden comments that he made on everyone, from women to immigrants. While Trump was busy riling up his base of voters, not many were able to pierce through his rhetoric gaining momentum in rural America where stories of economic setbacks to people and families are available in plenty. And, of course, his tone resonated with the white Americans, many of whom after Trump's victory have come out of the cracks and hooves of American society to announce their racist and xenophobic viewpoints. Some have called this trend the 'new normal'.
The president-elect's choice for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, was of the opinion that the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) was fine until he found out they smoked pot
But as Trump prepares to take over the White House, a lot of uncertainty persists. In the foreign policy sphere, his thought process is conjecture at best, with most not being sure what the president-elect thinks on the many challenges facing the world today. Some of the themes expected to be a large part of his ideology include populism, anti-globalisation, internalisation and exclusion, challenging the norms of current ways of capitalism, oddly, by a man who has benefited tremendously from it.
For example, Trump has suggested that the US should charge a sort of 'service fees' for offering military protection to its NATO allies, and his aides in running for some of the top cabinet positions currently on offer have echoed the same. Michael Flynn, a former General who is currently a successful Islamophobe and a commentator for Russian propaganda news sites, is touted to be Trump's National Security Advisor. Such brazen statements have put many NATO members on the edge, specifically in eastern and northern Europe, with states that border an increasingly erratic Russia under the grandesque plans of President Vladimir Putin to alter the world's political checks and balances more towards the East than the West, with Beijing in tow. But the issues of what Trump's cabinet will represent go much beyond into the grey areas, as his pick for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Mike Pompeo, has publicly stated his will to roll back on the Iran nuclear deal, calling Tehran the "world's largest state sponsor of terrorism" while the president-elect's choice for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, was of the opinion that the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) was fine until he found out they smoked pot. These will be the leaders of the new America, the 'new normal'.
For Trump, America's responsibilities around the world are going to remain sacrosanct. For a man who has no governance experience, his entry into the White House will push him into immediate global issues to take care of, with the Syrian civil war being on top of the list. However, there are already gaps in what the US has achieved (or not achieved) with its Middle East policy under Obama and the overtures Trump has made towards Putin, which have been more forthcoming towards Russia and its ways in the Syrian conflict. The election of Trump has not only seen Putin commend his accession to the White House (Russia has also been blamed for 'influencing' the elections in the US by the head of the NSA) but even Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been relentlessly bombing his own people for more than half a decade now, called Trump a "natural ally" if he is serious about fighting terrorism. These overtures towards Trump by Russia and Syria offer a mirage of sorts on what America's future policies towards the Kremlin will be (specifically his take on Ukraine), how Trump plans to address the Syrian crisis where the US has been at serious disagreements with Russia and operating dangerously close to Russian forces in the region. Beyond these theatres, stability in Afghanistan, which currently hinges on Western military presence, the question of North Korea and its nuclear weapons, Trump's opinion that the recently negotiated Iran nuclear deal should be scrapped and the South China Sea dispute with China are of immediate relevance for the incoming president-elect. The fact that no one really knows Trump's detailed stands on any of these issues is in itself causing nervousness around the world. "A week in, I can tell you that President Trump is awesome for the political risk industry. This is not a good thing," political scientist Ian Bremmer recently tweeted.
Trump's victory is part of a global trend; however, the world's only superpower and the most dominant case for democracy going that way is something that perhaps should keep many of us up at night.
Beyond Trump, it is the systems themselves that have been brought into question. A massive section of the American media, and most of the pollsters tracking this years US elections got their predictions completely wrong. A lot of the coverage that became inherently anti-Trump, again for all the right reasons, got blinded instead of reporting what was actually bubbling beneath all his rhetoric. Many, including myself, were pulled into the whirlpool of the absurdities that Trump was peddling, while not paying attention to the swell that was generating beneath him.
The Trump presidency is however upon us, and the unpredictability it brings is not just around him, but the rise of global populism itself. While Trump's victory is a signal, similar political uprisings have not been uncommon around the world over the past few years, with the rise of far-right political parties in France, Germany, The Netherlands, Austria and so on being on a steady upswing. 'Strong man' governments that challenge liberty under the guise of nationalism and "national interest" already sit in places such as Russia, Turkey and now even The Philippines and, as per some, this list includes India's Narendra Modi-led government as well. Trump's victory is part of a global trend; however, the world's only superpower and the most dominant case for democracy going that way is something that perhaps should keep many of us up at night.
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