Donald Trump’s Victory Promises to Upend the International Order
Donald J. Trump’s stunning election victory on Tuesday night rippled way beyond the nation’s boundaries, upending an international order that prevailed for decades and raising profound questions about America’s place in the world.
For the first time since before World War II, Americans chose a president who promised to reverse the internationalism practiced by predecessors of both parties and to build walls both physical and metaphorical. Mr. Trump’s win foreshadowed an America more focused on its own affairs while leaving the world to take care of itself.
The outsider revolution that propelled him to power over the Washington establishment of both political parties also reflected a fundamental shift in international politics evidenced already this year by events like Britain’s referendum vote to leave the European Union. Mr. Trump’s success could fuel the populist, nativist, nationalist, closed-border movements already so evident in Europe and spreading to other parts of the world.
Global markets fell after Tuesday’s election and many around the world scrambled to figure out what it might mean in parochial terms. For Mexico, it seemed to presage a new era of confrontation with its northern neighbor. For Europe and Asia, it could rewrite the rules of modern alliances, trade deals, and foreign aid. For the Middle East, it foreshadowed a possible alignment with Russia and fresh conflict with Iran.
“All bets are off,” said Agustín Barrios Gómez, a former congressman in Mexico and president of the Mexico Image Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting its reputation abroad.
Crispin Blunt, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Britain’s House of Commons, said, “We are plunged into uncertainty and the unknown.”
Many linked Mr. Trump’s victory to the British vote to exit the European Union and saw a broader unraveling of the modern international system. “After Brexit and this election, everything is now possible,” Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the United States, wrote on Twitter. “A world is collapsing before our eyes.”
The election enthralled people around the world on Tuesday night: night owls watching television in a youth hostel in Tel Aviv; computer technicians monitoring results on their laptops in Hong Kong; and even onetime oil pipeline terrorists in Nigeria’s remote Delta creeks, who expressed concern about how Mr. Trump’s election would affect their country.
It is hardly surprising that much of the world was rooting for Hillary Clinton over Mr. Trump, who characterized his foreign policy as “America First.”
He promised to build a wall along the Mexican border and temporarily bar Muslim immigrants from entering the United States. He questioned Washington’s longstanding commitment to NATO allies, called for cutting foreign aid, praised President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, vowed to rip up international trade deals, assailed China and suggested Asian allies develop nuclear weapons.
Polls indicated that Mrs. Clinton was favored in many countries, with the exception of Russia. Last summer, the Pew Research Center found that people in all 15 countries it surveyed trusted Mrs. Clinton to do the right thing in foreign affairs more than Mr. Trump by ratios as high as 10 to one.
Mr. Trump’s promise to pull back militarily and economically left many overseas contemplating a road ahead without an American ally.
“The question is whether you will continue to be involved in international affairs as a dependable ally to your friends and allies,” said Kunihiko Miyake, a former Japanese diplomat now teaching at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. “If you stop doing that, then all the European, Middle Eastern and Asian allies to the United States will reconsider how they secure themselves.”
In Germany, where American troops have been stationed for more than seven decades, the prospect of a pullback seemed bewildering. “It would be the end of an era,” Henrik Müller, a journalism professor at the Technical University of Dortmund, wrote in Der Spiegel. “The postwar era in which Americans’ atomic weapons and its military presence in Europe shielded first the west and later the central European states would be over. Europe would have to take care of its own security.”
Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the German parliamentary committee for foreign policy and a member of the ruling party, said Mr. Trump was “completely inadequate” to his office. “That Trump’s election could lead to the worst estrangement between America and Europe since the Vietnam War would be the least of the damage,” he said.
Perhaps nowhere was Mr. Trump’s win more alarming than in Mexico, which has objected to his promises to build a wall and bill America’s southern neighbor for it.
“I see a clear and present danger,” said Rossana Fuentes-Berain, director of the Mexico Media Lab, a think tank, and a founder of the Latin American edition of Foreign Affairs. “Every moment will be a challenge. Every move or declaration will be something that will not make us comfortable in the neighborhood — and that is to everyone’s detriment.”
With about $531 billion in trade in goods last year, Mexico is America’s third-largest partner after Canada and China. Supply chains in both countries are interdependent, with American goods and parts shipped to Mexican factories to build products that are shipped back into the United States for sale. Five million American jobs directly depend on trade with Mexico, according to the Mexico Institute.
The Mexican peso immediately fell 13 percent after the election, its biggest drop in decades. Mr. Barrios Gómez, the former congressman, predicted a short-term peso devaluation of 20 percent and a Mexican recession “as supply chains across the continent become sclerotic and investments dry up.” The business community, he said, was “freaking out.”
The economic fallout will probably reverberate farther. Izumi Kobayashi, vice chairwoman of Keizai Doyukai, a Japanese business group, predicted a drop in foreign investment in the United States as executives skeptical of Mr. Trump wait to see what he does.
“He has been focusing on the negative side of the global markets and globalization,” Ms. Kobayashi said. “But at the same time it is really difficult to go back to the old business world. So how will he explain to the people that benefit and also the fact that there is no option to go back to the old model of business?”
The uneasiness with Mr. Trump’s victory overseas ranged far beyond the country’s traditional partners. Abubakar Kari, a political-science professor at the University of Abuja, said most Nigerians believed a Trump administration would not bother with issues outside the United States.
“If Trump wins, God forbid,” Macharia Gaitho, one of Kenya’s most popular columnists, wrote on Tuesday before the votes came in, “then we will have to reassess our relations with the United States.”
One of the few places where Mr. Trump’s victory was greeted enthusiastically was Russia, where state-controlled television has been feasting on the circuslike elements of the American election. Not since the Cold War has Russia played such a big role in a presidential election, with Mr. Trump praising Mr. Putin and American investigators concluding that Russians had hacked Democratic email messages.
“Trump’s presidency will make the U.S. sink into a full-blown crisis, including an economic one,” said Vladimir Frolov, a Russian columnist and international affairs analyst. “The U.S. will be occupied with its own issues and will not bother Putin with questions.”
“As a consequence,” he added, “Moscow will have a window of opportunity in geopolitical terms. For instance, it can claim control over the former Soviet Union and a part of the Middle East. What is there not to like?”
Others tried to find the upside. Mr. Blunt, the British lawmaker, said he was heartened by Mr. Trump’s selection of Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana as his running mate and thought that Britain might be the exception to the new president’s hostility toward trade deals.
Israel was another place where Mr. Trump enjoyed some support, mainly because of the perception that he would give the country a freer hand in its handling of the longstanding conflict with the Palestinians. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders and commentators worried about a broader disengagement from a Middle East awash in war, terrorism and upheaval.
“Decisions cannot be postponed,” said Yohanan Plesner, a former member of the Israeli Parliament now serving as president of the Israel Democracy Institute. “The situation in Syria is very chaotic. The unrest in the region is continuing. America has to decide whether it wants to play an active role in shaping the developments of the region.”
And even some countries that might expect to see some benefits from an American retreat worried about the implications. Counterintuitive as it might seem, China was concerned about Mr. Trump’s promise to pull American troops back from Asia.
“If he indeed withdraws the troops from Japan, the Japanese may develop their own nuclear weapons,” said Shen Dingli, professor of international relations at Fudan University in Shanghai. “South Korea may also go nuclear if Trump cancels the missile deployment and leaves the country alone facing the North’s threats. How is that good for China?”
For American voters, that was not the point. After decades of worrying about what was good for other countries, they decided it was time to worry about what was good for America. And Mr. Trump promised to do just that, even if the rest of the world might not like it.