Back in July, UnHerd tech editor Nigel Cameron wrote about the mainstream media’s obsessive coverage of Donald Trump:
“A recent review of CNN’s news coverage found 92% of it was devoted to Donald J. Trump.
“The details are astonishing. Of 13 hours, 27 minutes of actual news coverage on the day chosen, 12 hours, 19 minutes, was devoted to the Trump presidency. Everything else? ‘A mere 68 minutes – a little more than three minutes per hour’ versus nearly 40 for Trump.”
Nigel’s point is that in devoting so much attention to one story, the media is neglecting many other important stories (in particular, developments in technology that will be impacting on our lives long after a certain orange-haired gentleman leaves the Whitehouse).
I agree, but that’s not the limit of it. The Trump circus is so all-consuming that it even distracts attention from the Trump administration – which, believe it or not, does occasionally find time for some serious national and international politics.
In a post for his Marginal Revolution blog, the economist Tyler Cowen takes stock of the difference that Trump has made to America and the world so far. The most important developments concern America’s foreign policy. Let’s start with the obvious, i.e. North Korea:
“The situation with North Korea has moved to one of open confrontation. That said, there are stronger commercial sanctions on North Korea than before, and the attitude of the Chinese does seem to have shifted toward recognizing North Korea as a problem needing to be solved. For the time being, both the missile tests and the jawboning have stopped, for unknown reasons. Note that the South Korean and Japanese markets remain high, of course the U.S. market is strong too.”
That missile test pause has, let us note, ended overnight.
Then there are two items about Japan and India:
“Trump has spent a great deal of time with Prime Minister Abe [of Japan], the real ‘pivot toward Asia.’ Abe is being treated like the most important leader of the free world — is that crazy? Merkel is now teetering.
“The Trump administration has recognized and encouraged a much more explicit semi-military alliance between America and India, also part of the pivot. China-India relations could be the world’s number one issue moving forward.”
For those unfamiliar with the phrase ‘pivot to Asia’, it is the idea that America should spend less time looking over the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, Russia and the Middle East and more time looking over the Pacific Ocean to the rising Asian powers.
As a strategy it received strong endorsement from Hillary Clinton (in her time as Secretary of State) and from President Obama himself. Arguably it also represents Obama’s most fundamental error – the underlying reason why he spent his Presidency being wrong-footed by Vladimir Putin and by events in the Middle East and North Africa.
It’s therefore very interesting that we see Trump persisting with the same strategic outlook – albeit stamped with his own unique, and terrifying, approach to international diplomacy.
In the Middle East, his focus is not on Syria or Iraq, but Saudi Arabia:
“The apparent ‘green light’ from the Trump administration probably raised the likelihood and extremity of the Saudi purge/coup. I give this a 20% chance of working out well, though with a big upside if it does. Whether you like it or not, so far it appears to me this is Trump’s most important initiative.”
It certainly will be if war breaks out between Saudi Arabia and Iran (and their respective allies).
Something else to pay attention to in Cowen’s analysis of Trumpian geopolitics is just how peripheral Europe is to it. There are just two passing references to the continent in the entire piece.
Europeans like to laugh at Donald Trump – and not without reason: he is absurd, he is grotesque, he is undignified.
On the other hand, he is relevant.