World should prepare for return of a Trump presidency

Former US President is in the running to be elected presidency in November. Picture: AFP

Former US President is in the running to be elected presidency in November. Picture: AFP

Published Feb 4, 2024


David Monyae

Former United States president Donald Trump looks set to win the Republican party nomination for the country’s presidential elections in November this year. He has already won the first two Republican primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire and is leading with 32 delegates, 15 more than his rival Nikki Haley who has secured 17 delegates. Numerous polls have shown Donald Trump to be by far the most popular candidate among the Republican base.

Since the start of the Republican nomination campaign, 12 candidates have dropped out of the race including Mike Pence who served as Vice President in the Trump administration. It increasingly looks like it’s a matter of time before Nikki Haley suspends her campaign to pave way for Donald Trump’s nomination. She has already lost the first two primaries.

Trump has a massive lead in the polls in South Carolina, a state where Haley served as governor from 2011 to 2017 and calls her home state. Republican leaders in the state are already falling over each other endorsing Trump. As such, unless a miracle happens, it seems the world is likely to witness a rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden who defeated Trump in the 2020 elections on a Democratic ticket. Biden looks guaranteed to secure the Democratic nomination as polls show him to be the preferred candidate within the Democratic party base with 71% of the people polled leaning towards his candidacy.

In most of the national polls conducted to measure the popularity of Trump and Biden, the former seems to have an edge though by small margins. Another Trump presidency might very much be on the horizon if the polls are anything to go by.

But what would a Trump victory in November mean for the US foreign policy and geopolitics. Trump assumed the presidency in 2016 touting his America First vision as a guide to his foreign policy. He rapidly undid what his predecessor, Barack Obama, had painstakingly achieved in his eight years as president. He withdrew US from the Paris Climate Agreement citing that it was unfair to the US economic interests, ripped up the Iran nuclear deal and imposed sanctions as a way forcing Tehran to abandon its nuclear programme, and threatened to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) complaining that other members were not pulling their weight. In other major moves, the Trump administration facilitated the normalisation of Israel-Arab relations, started a trade war with China by imposing punitive tariffs on imports from the Asian giant, held summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in an effort to get him to abandon his nuclear programme, and withdrew US troops from hotspots such as Somalia and Afghanistan.

Moreover, Trump was not as hostile as other US presidents had been on Russia insisting that the US had to work with Moscow for mutual benefit. In another controversial move, Trump imposed a travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries namely Libya, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Sudan a list that was later expanded to include Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Tanzania, and Kyrgyzstan on the grounds that it was part of fighting terrorism. In summary, Trump ran a nationalist, isolationist, anti-China, and inward looking foreign policy which weakened US relations with Europe, stigmatised Muslim countries, forgot Africa, and undermined multilateralism and globalisation.

Now with a realistic second shot at the presidency, Trump doesn’t seem to have changed his thinking much on US foreign policy. In his campaign speeches Trump has said he will bring back travel bans arguing that they were effective in keeping terrorists out of the US. He has also promised to ramp up his trade war with China whom he still blames for cheating the US accusing them of intellectual property theft among other things.

Interestingly, unlike Biden, Trump has refused to make a firm commitment to defend Taiwan in the event of China moving to annex the island it has long claimed to be Chinese territory. Moreover, Trump’s disdain of the US being the global policeman means that he may scale down US military presence in the Indo-Pacific that is meant to contain China. Trump has further said that he will end the Russia-Ukraine war but not offering any concrete plans on how he would do that. He has claimed that he will use his close relations with the Russian President Vladimir Putin to bring the Ukraine war to an end. This may mean giving Putin assurances that Ukraine will not join Nato or the European Union (EU) which was Putin’s reason for launching the invasion in Ukraine in February 2022. Trump’s stance on the Israel-Palestine war has been ambiguous with no clear plans on how his administration would approach it.

He has blamed Israel’s faulty intelligence for not anticipating the Hamas attack on October 7 and also claimed that Hamas would not have carried out the attack had he been in office. The prospect of a second Trump presidency is unsettling for his allies especially the EU, Japan, Australia, and South Korea who are uncertain what Trump would do regarding the Russia-Ukraine war, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the Indo-Pacific power struggle among other contentious issues.

In Latin America, Trump will have to deal with President Lula da Silva in Brazil who could not be more ideologically different from him. However, in the new Argentinian president Javier Milei, Trump will find a willing ally. Africa is likely to remain forgotten in the Trump administration. Hence, the continent may need to beef up its relations with China and other major powers like the EU as an alternative to Trump’s indifference. The world has had a taste of what a Trump presidency is like and should be well-prepared to deal with it. However, Trump’s erratic behaviour and unpredictability makes planning for the possibility of his presidency a nightmare.

*Monyae is Associate Professor of International Relations and Political Science, and Director for the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL.