Those who believed, or even deluded themselves, that Donald Trump’s dangerous and outlandish ideas, as expressed on the campaign trail, would be confined to history once he became president-elect Trump, must think again. A string of eyebrow raising appointments, relentless onslaught of controversial tweeting and general gaffes, since he was voted in as the next president of the United States, should serve as a wakeup call across the globe, unless you are Vladimir Putin.
For the next four years, we should brace ourselves for a mixture of a hawkish, isolationist, anti-migrant, generally bigoted, widely inappropriate and Kremlin friendly US administration. Those who find it difficult to live with the idea of a full term of his presidency hold to a flicker of hope that he will either resign or be impeached at some point in the near future.
Filling the major positions in a new administration is a difficult task, but the most important one for any new president, especially for someone with negligible experience in politics such as Donald Trump. Much can be learnt from these appointments about the direction and nature that the new occupant of the White House would like to take.
So far most of those in key positions are older white men, of substantial military background, worked on Wall Street, or are complete outsiders. This is not exactly a representative group of the protesting Americans he pretended to be the voice for a number of weeks ago.
He seems a person determined, some may say possessed, with forming an administration that will dismantle most of Barak Obama’s legacy. Every new nomination indicates the intention to reverse the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obama Care, withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, and the nuclear agreement with Iran and to eliminate free trade.
And this was the case even before he named Rex Tillerson as his choice for the Secretary of State post. Selecting the CEO of Exxon Mobil sealed an inner circle around Trump which is more Putin friendly than environmentally friendly. Trump also surrounds himself with an array of former generals, all of them with hawkish credentials, despite his past scathing criticism of the military.
So far most of those in key positions are older white men, of substantial military background, worked on Wall Street, or are complete outsidersYossi Mekelberg
His selection of generals, thus far, includes Mike Flynn, as national security adviser; James Mattis, for defence; and John Kelly, as Secretary of Homeland Security. One of his first choices was nominating Stephen Bannon, the former head of the far-right propaganda website Breitbart News, as his chief strategist.
Bannon once proudly described Breitbart as the platform for the alt-right, which has been widely described as “… a brand of far-right conservatism that generally embraces and promotes white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny.” Considering how many of Trump’s appointments are from the heart of the political, economic and military establishment, his promise to “drain the Washington swamp,” is left meaningless with no signs of rejuvenation or reinvention of US politics.
The “Mad Dog”
General Mattis, nicknamed “Mad Dog”, on the plus side, unlike his new boss, opposes torture. He is quoted as telling a very impressed Trump, “Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I’ll do better [than torture].” But, as welcome as this approach is, he is also known to have told Iraqi leaders back in 2003, “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you ... I’ll kill you all.” This insolent resort to threats did not seem to win either the war or win over the Iraqi people. It is more likely that it contributed to ushering in the al Qaeda and ISIS.
The fact that US army Lt. General Michael Flynn was previously removed from a senior position in the Obama administration did not cause him any harm in the eyes of the Trump camp in being considered for the role of National Security Adviser. Flynn criticised the Obama administration for not being tough enough on radical Islam, though for this new top American official, “fear of Muslims is rational,” as he tweeted earlier this year.
Fear of 1.6 billion people, comprising more than one fifth of the world’s population, is a lot of fear, but never enough for an administration that seems to be hell-bent on spreading it as an instrument of power. Another indication of the shape of the new US administration was to offer Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Not only he is utterly sceptical of the science behind climate change, but he is also part of a legal action initiated by the 28 states against the EPA to terminate the Clean Power Plan, which is a centrepiece in the current administration’s effort to halt greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired plants. The phrase leaving the cat to guard the cream, seems almost invented for such an appointment.
No change of spots
In the few weeks since his unexpected victory it has been demonstrated that this leopard is not going to change its spots just because he became the president of the most powerful country in the world. His tweets are as divisive and offensive as ever.
His talk about immigration and his insistence on deporting millions of illegal immigrants continues to be vitriolic. He also continues to not be bothered by the inaccuracy of his facts in claiming for instance to save more jobs than he actually did by his intervention to avoid the transfer of jobs to Mexico from an Indiana manufacturing plant.
However, as always with Trump, there is also the bizarre and the incongruous. Trump went on a rant against Time magazine, after he was nominated as its Person of the Year, complaining that the accolade is not called Man of the Year anymore. One wonders whether it is because in his eyes women never merit such a tribute?
Moreover, opting for Nigel Farage to be the first British politician he met after his election, and then suggesting, in a complete departure from protocol, that Farage should be the next British ambassador in Washington, caused consternation in London.
Not surprisingly, Nigel Farage proclaimed his suitability to become Trump’s special envoy for peace in the Middle East, as if the region does not have enough problems as it is, and needs a Trump clone to meddle with its affairs. Hard to believe that he is still more than a month away from officially becoming the 46th President of the United States.
Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.