With the ongoing tensions in North Korea, a radical change in policy in the White House, Chinese regional ambitions, attempts to restrict the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, populist leaders in Indonesia and the Philippines, and terrorism and lackluster economic performance in Indonesia, the tensions and unease can be felt across the political landscape in the region. Whereas Donald J. Trump is, without a doubt, one of the most controversial U.S. presidents since Andrew Jackson (his hero), the political maverick is a savvy, Machiavellian student of modern politics.
Have Twitter, cause chaos: President Trump, the Tweeter-in-Chief
Domestically, the meltdown of the usually more restrained Don Lemon of CNN shows how much Trump’s Mussolini-style rallies for his base gets under the reporters’ and media’s skin. The recent Phoenix rally was vintage Trump, as he reveled in the continuous pleasure of rubbing the increasingly unhinged legacy media the wrong way. Trump has achieved exactly what he set out to do: Challenge the system by deliberately paying the hostile left-wing media back for their years of ridicule of him.
Trump’s wrath against CNN and The Washington Post (declared by the President a delivery service for Amazon, USA Today and the New York Times) makes them his self-declared enemies. After all, the media were openly calling for not endorsing the Trump candidacy, a fact that has been quickly forgotten by the American media elite.
American media elites stand on the receiving end of Trump’s wrath as a result of their own doing. In the highly contentious lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, American media overstepped its bounds and grossly underestimated the American voter who, in a stinging rebuke against decades of “mainstream” media supremacy, put the media in its place by voting for the other guy – Trump – despite the media’s endless haranguing against him.
While driving the collective left stark raving mad, Trump’s message is being missed (or deliberately ignored) by the legacy news outlets. As a result, Trump has bypassed the traditional structures and gone directly to the people. And thanks to Twitter, Donald J. Trump, also known as “Tweeter-in-Chief,” has does exactly that. He has broken all media and presidential traditions by Tweeting directly to the masses.
Sean Spicer said, “I think it freaks the mainstream media out that he has this following of over 45-plus million people that follow him on social media, that he can have a direct conversation. He doesn’t have to have it funneled through the media,…”
Donald J. Trump is a modern day Machiavelli and while reading from a teleprompter he sounds wooden, even staged. At rallies such as a recent one in Phoenix, his Mussolini-style rants provide a simplistic narrative – repetitive and bordering on boredom. But his message is understood even by maids from Myanmar, Chinese bus drivers, and the North Korean lunatic launching missiles towards Japan.
Domestically, President Trump is playing to the cushion on the left, which is going bonkers. The daily live TV meltdowns on CNN are as epic as Trump’s rants. But Donald J. Trump is a manifestation of the festering racial issues and the continuous post-trauma of the left having lost against the brutish Trump. The left, the opponent within the Republican party, and the Democrats are missing the point. Trump’s behavior is an act, the presidential podium a stage, whence Trump is executing a brilliant strategy: Annoy his opposition.
It is maybe even therapeutic for the president. While others had affairs in the Oval Office, Donald Trump rants. But while brilliant, Trump’s strategy is by no means sophisticated. But so far no one has really recognized the Machiavellian streak of a hard-nosed, brutal, New York self-made billionaire and his status as an equal opportunity bully.
Trump has defined domestic politics as divisive, polarizing, and confrontational, and if the growing resistance movement will not dispose of him, the Trump era is redefining U.S. foreign action and policy. And, Trump is not alone. Despite Trump being a lightning rod for the press, the national security structure has responded to the ASEAN threats challenging the U.S. hegemony.
Trump’s inner power circle is returning to the global center of U.S. strategic interests by revoking the Obama era policy of ineffective risk aversion. McMasters, James “Chaos” Mattis, and even Rex Tillerson are products of a conservative, centrist foreign policy vision on what defines America. Trump, in his speech on the new (old) Afghanistan strategy, kept it simple. We kill terrorists. This sounds more like Secretary of Defense Mattis than the old President Trump.
This week we saw for the first time that North Korea flinched. The announcement by U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson that the U.S. was “encouraged” by North Korea’s actions is consistent with the 100-day deadline negotiated with the Chinese premier and the U.S. president. With the launch that followed pundits are quick to decry Donald Trump failed, but very few within the U.S. administration are having any illusion about the threat North Korea poses to Asia.
So far, Trump’s aggressive policies are working. Islamic State is on retreat, Iraq is stabilizing, China is recalibrating, and war with North Korea is averted, for the moment. The recent U-turn by North Korea proves that Trump’s fiery rhetoric and incessant Tweeting works. Trump runs a Marathon, not a sprint. He is a Machiavellian president and you better take Trump, the president, seriously. Deliberate chaos is a battle strategy, and it fits the character of Donald J. Trump. Period.
But, we are not out of hot water yet. The Asian region is buzzing crisis and with significant U.S. forces. North Korea just announced the new accelerated development of its missile program and the South China Sea remains a flash point. But, any miscalculation by Pyongyang, Beijing, or minor players like Duarte, Jokowi, or even the Russians should not underestimate the determination of the U.S. president and the protection of hegemonic interests of the United States in the region.
Emperor Trump, the revolutionary Jacksonian-Machiavellian
Much to the despair of the American left, who are still sulking over the earthquake defeat of the “sure-win” Hillary Clinton, the American re-balancing of U.S. policy both at home and abroad should be given due credit. Whereas the endless array of pundits daily interpret every eye flicker, hand-shake missed or not, or political Tweet with disdain, dismay, and horror, Trump should not be underestimated as a powerful, aggressive individual who has learned on the job in six months what his political opponents in both the Republican and Democrat parties learned over a lifetime.
The drums of war: Beware of perpetual crisis; miscalculation by proxy powers
North Korean, Philippine, and Indonesian leaders should be aware of the potential pitfalls resulting from a miscalculation of betting on China. The populist leadership in Indonesia in particular, with its leftist tendencies causing a nationalist backlash and the current Philippine leader threatened a divorce from the U.S. by the current Philippine leader, is peddling in the global hegemonic positions of the United States vice China.
Whereas the populist noise both leaders in Jakarta and Manila are making may look good domestically, it is a dangerous gamble to under estimate the U.S. administration, which is composed of battle hardened and political savvy inner circle operators Mattis, Tillerson, and McMasters, and others. Whereas Trump is a novice, the Secretaries of State and Defense and the leaders of the intelligence community are not.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned North Korea in April not to give the “United States a reason to attack.” Her warning should be heeded.
The United States quietly and quickly has assembled a large presence of its armed forces in Asia. Secretary of Defense James Mattis outlined the considerable force allocation of two-thirds of the Fleet Marine Force and 55 percent of the Navy and Tactical Air Assets to Asia. Missed by many in Asia, the United States is protecting the interests of its allies in the region and the hegemonic interests of the American people. And posting three U.S. aircraft carriers and a surveillance package in the region helps to underline the “new sheriff in town” policy. And, Japan, Korea, and Australia are supporting the refocus of U.S. policy to rebalance power.
Should any of the peripheral actors, such as the Philippines or Indonesia, change course and lean too much to the left, the United States will do what it does best: Hard power conversion of regime directions. By all means, democratic, direct, indirect, economic warfare, use of non-state actors, NGOs, civil society pressure, the media. Trump, the Machiavellian, uses the tools of superpowers. The Chinese leadership quickly has realized that having the United States as a peer benefits both China and the United States. More concerning is the revivalism of American real power. Finally, the Obama administration’s disastrous eight years of mismanaging Asian affairs and interests are being rectified.