The longest period of great power peace and relative prosperity in history hangs by a thread. Three men can cut it. Thomas Wright – The Irish Times – 4th November, 2017
In Donald Trump, America has a rogue president who has a 30-year track record of opposing key elements of the order, including free trade and alliances. Vladimir Putin wants to overthrow the order because he believes it poses a direct threat to his regime. Xi Jinping’s China benefits from the open global economy but he would dearly like to replace the US as the pre-eminent power in East Asia.
And yet somehow, the old order endures, at least for now. Trump was so unprepared to govern that he turned to a number of generals and CEOs – the so-called “adults in the room” – who have worked closely together to contain his worst impulses and to maintain a traditional US foreign policy as much as possible.
The adults – Jim Mattis, Rex Tillerson, H R McMaster, John Kelly and Gary Cohn– have had some success, preventing Trump from starting a trade war with China or from pulling out of Nato. Trump continues to tweet irresponsibly and he overruled his advisers to decertify the Iran deal and pull out of the Paris climate accord, but he finds himself more contained and boxed in than he would like.
Meanwhile, Putin and Xi have been cautious and are biding their time. Both have domestic politics to worry about – Xi with the recently concluded 19th party congress and Putin with next year’s Russian presidential election. Putin’s election is unfair and fraudulent of course but much can still go wrong for him, as it did in 2012 when protests rocked Moscow.
The answer is unknowable of course but unfortunately there is good reason to believe precisely the opposite. Perhaps, in the age of Trump, this is as good as it gets and it just gets worse from here.
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- Thomas Wright is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of All Measures Short of War: The Contest for the 21st Century and the Future of American Power