With Trump, pendulum swings away from Obama’s schemes

With US President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet appointments almost complete, it is possible to seek an assessment of the direction that the new team may choose for the US. The first feature of the team is that, broadly speaking, its members are people who were somebodies in their respective fields before being asked to join the administration.

This is in contrast with President Barack Obama’s administration, which consisted largely of unknown figures and defeated presidential candidates such as Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Obama’s team was dominated by lawyers who, like himself, had not even practiced their trade before they entered politics. In Trump’s team, you need a loop to find a lawyer, if at all.
In forming his team, Trump has looked for strong personalities who, because they have had distinguished careers, are unlikely to form a chorus of yes-men and women. In contrast, Obama could not tolerate anyone who challenged his views. This is clear in Clinton’s memoirs, and was manifested on at least three occasions when Obama publicly reversed decisions announced by his Secretary of State John Kerry.
Trump also had a wider field of recruitment, picking his team from 15 states, a wider choice than Obama’s which was, initially at least, centered on the Chicago political mafia. Trump played an interesting game by leading many Republican dinosaurs — notably Newt Gingrich, Rudolph Giuliani and Chris Christie, not to mention turncoat Democrats such as Sen. Joe Lieberman and former CIA head James Woolsey — up the garden path by dangling the mirage of big jobs in front of them.
In the end, however, Trump formed his own team and united the Republican Party on his own terms, owing nothing to any party grandee. Unlike Obama’s team, which consisted mostly of people on the margin of American elites, Trump’s Cabinet is a coalition of constituencies that together form the core of US national power.
Represented in the Cabinet are Wall Street, the oil and energy industries, the military-security establishment and the business community. The team includes the largest number of military figures and businesspeople in any US Cabinet since the 1940s, yet it is more of a citizen’s Cabinet than many previous ones dominated by professional politicians.
The profile of Trump’s Cabinet indicates a pendulum swing away from Obama’s wayward presidency. First, the pendulum will swing away from the expansion of the public sector favored by Obama, most dramatically illustrated by his so-called affordable health scheme.
If allowed to develop its full potential, the scheme could mean the virtual nationalization of some 16 percent of US gross domestic product (GDP), a huge step toward a state-dominated economy.
The pendulum will also swing away from globalization. Trump cannot stop, let alone reverse, globalization, but he seems to want to modulate its rhythm and tempo to reduce its adverse socioeconomic effects on sections of US society. Obama and Clinton, however, were committed to expanding and speeding up globalization with a series of new trade deals covering the Pacific region and later Europe.
The Trump presidency will see the pendulum swing away from massive and systematic cuts in US defense capabilities. Rather than pursue Obama’s strategy of gradually disarming the US, Trump promises an ambitious modernization plan aimed at increasing American military power and global reach.
The pendulum will also swing away from Obama’s very a-la-mode but ultimately vacuous commitment to environmental schemes, notably the witches’ brew cooked in last year’s climate-change conference in Paris. Trump believes that at a time when the global economy badly needs growth, it would be wrong to impose on it restraints motivated by ideology rather than science.
The pendulum will swing away from restrictions that Obama imposed, and Clinton endorsed, on the US energy industry. That gives the coal industry a longer lease of life, while shale oil could benefit from a review of rules imposed on it by the federal government. Current restrictions on energy, especially oil exports by the US, may also be eased.
In foreign policy, the pendulum is likely to swing away from Obama’s wooing and helping America’s enemies while antagonizing its friends and allies. He gave Russia the space to go rogue, invading its neighbors, annexing other people’s territories and ignoring international rules, even in the Olympics.
The Trump team, in contrast, is unlikely to be such a pushover for Russian President Vladimir Putin who, opportunist that he is, knows full well when to stop if there is a risk of hitting something hard.
Under Trump, the pendulum will swing away from Obama’s sycophantic courting of the mullahs of Tehran. Trump is unlikely to follow Obama’s example of writing love letters to supreme leader Ali Khamenei, not to mention former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Nor will Trump repeat Obama’s James-Bond style smuggling of suitcases filled with cash for the mullahs, flown via Cyprus to Tehran at night. Trump may not try to overthrow them, which in any case is not anyone’s business but the Iranian people’s. However, he is unlikely to help the mullahs, as Obama has done for almost eight years, get out of the holes their antediluvian ideology keeps digging for their regime.
In the same context, the pendulum is sure to swing away from lip service to Islam, support for the Muslim Brotherhood and disdain for pro-democracy forces in the so-called Muslim world. In 2009, Obama sided with the mullahs against the people of Iran, then in nationwide rebellion.
In 2011, he helped the Brotherhood come to power in Cairo, wrecking the chances of reformist and pro-democracy forces. However, always lacking the courage of his professed convictions, when the tide turned Obama abandoned the Brotherhood to its tragic fate.
Trump may end up disappointing many, including some of his ardent supporters. However, his presidency offers a chance for the US to change course away from the disastrous direction set by Obama and his associates.

• Amir Taheri was executive editor in chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at, or written for, innumerable publications and published eleven books.
• Originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat

Tuesday, December 20th 2016
Amir Taheri

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