For all of the criticism President Barack Obama receives for being too idealistic on foreign policy, he recommended a mix of realism and idealism when engaging with other nations while speaking at the Air Force Academy graduation on Thursday. The New York Times reported: "Mr. Obama said the cadets must find a way in their military careers to be both 'strongheaded and bighearted'...."
The problem with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is that he is neither a realist (whose guiding principle is rational interest for the state) nor an idealist (someone willing to think outside the box and pursue genuine attempts at peace). He is an isolationist and, to borrow a term from science, a catastrophist -- he tends to create chaos in quick jolts. In his article "International Institutions: Can Interdependence Work?" political scientist Robert Keohane writes, "Even powerful states have an interest, most of the time, in following the rules of well-established international institutions, since general conformity to rules makes the behavior of other states more predictable." Has Trump shown any tendency toward predictability? It's harder to win the lottery than to guess what the erratic Trump will say or do next. And it is clear to many people that he is putting his own interests ahead of the national interest.
Can Trump really strike the deals he says he can with other countries when the world of business is far removed from the art of statecraft? Multiple historical organizations rank businesspeople the lowest in terms of their success as president. According to The Hill, "(T)he number of highly successful businessmen who became highly successful presidents? None. Or conversely, the number of successful presidents who were successful businessmen? None." That's nothing against businesspeople; the two jobs require different skill sets.
Trump has shown he does not understand tact or nuance, which are vital to negotiating with powerful governments and international organizations. If he thinks he can always get his way, he will be in for a surprise -- and millions of Americans would suffer for it. We already know he does not have the potential to govern domestic concerns rationally based on his track record of lying and incitement over immigration and other matters. But this is also true of foreign affairs, especially given his disdain for foreigners. He wants America to disengage from the world, put up more borders and thus help less people.
Trump is also a catastrophist. His calls for "riots" if he did not win the Republican nomination have morphed from a potential threat to reality. Riots are escalating now at Trump events. What a difference one sees between the patina of positivity in the "Make America Great Again" slogan and what his negative candidacy is actually doing to our country. I fear what his type of catastrophic politics would do to attempts at worldwide stability. At the least, it will not help things in an already fragile world.
Trump is no sane person's pick for president. His political style and lack of preparedness for international relations suggest he would be much more prone to create conflict than peace. And it is very probable that he would fail so disastrously that his mistakes could not be undone for a generation. What I see in Trump is someone who disdains reality and would rather run roughshod over it, creating an internal affirming sense of self-satisfaction, than come up with creative solutions to real problems the world over. Former Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban said, "When all else fails, men turn to reason." Trump is a person who cannot tolerate defeat or even small slights. Because he is so averse to failure and all the lessons failure offers, he will never be able to turn to reason and reality.