Turkey, Trump, and the dangerous politics of disorder
Nothing in the world seems to be neat and clean anymore. And now, Turkey's haphazard (and apparently failed) coup — led by parts of the largest standing army in NATO outside the U.S.'s own — has justified the growing skepticism around today's international order that has defined Donald Trump's White House run.
Amid all the uncertainty and hollowness of Trump's myriad proclamations, so unnerving in such an uncertain and hollow time, great clarity has suffused his sharply divergent view of the world and America's role in it. Trump believes that the U.S. has lost its power and force because the structure it helped create to order the globe has lost its efficacy and control.
The Turkish ordeal dramatizes these problems in stunning fashion.
This is not "just another" terror attack, or "just another" round of unrest and repression in the Middle East. This is a NATO country, increasingly divided and anti-Western, careening between two dark futures with no end in sight and no peaceful escape from a showdown. Here in a single paroxysm is fodder for every one of Trump's indictments against the U.S.-led international "order": the passivity, weakness, and irrelevance of the Obama administration and the North Atlantic alliance at their worst; the implacable strength of Muslim extremists in the absence of effective local strongmen; the absurdity of depending on weak regional partners while rejecting grand bargains with those who can best project power; and perhaps above all, the profound lack of wisdom of trying to "lead" a hostile and alien world engaged in a bloody and uncontrollable race to the bottom.
There are, of course, counterarguments — some immensely prudent, others drawing on principles without which American foreign policy would itself become hostile and alien. But the essence of Trump's worldview hinges on its supposed self-evidence, and Turkey's ragged coup makes America's traditional, deepening anti-globalism feel like common sense. There again are the crowds, the tanks, the videotaped statements, the threatened airports, the lockdowns, the gunfire. There again is the virus of disorder spreading across the rest of the West. What, possibly, could we do about it that would be worth the terrible cost? The American hurdle for liberal internationalism, and therefore Hillary Clinton, has just ratcheted much higher.
It has risen higher, indeed, than Trump's more overheated fans and critics had imagined that Brexit would raise it. Without enough reason, but without putting reason first, many on both sides of the Brexit issue saw the success of the Leave campaign as proof that Trump-style nationalism was riding a populist wave far bigger than the man's own opinions or cult of personality. Clearly, worldwide, elites are far out of vogue. But anti-liberal populists in America, of whom Trump commands just a portion, can only make strained analogies to the challenges surrounding sovereignty and Islam that drive the European far right. If there is a wave from abroad that will propel Trump to power, it will not arrive on a tide of surprising victories amassed by Western reactionaries; it will come on a tide of blood, unleashed with grim regularity by anti-Western radicals.
What Americans need now is a forceful defender of liberal internationalism as a crystallization of greater prudence and principle than Trump and his fellow skeptics can muster. But what Americans have is Hillary Clinton — more hawkish and internationalist than Barack Obama, but a walking, talking apotheosis of neoliberalism's reigning, failing orthodoxies. Clinton is the voice of those who believe their enlightened moralism justifies their permanent elitehood. Yet the "right" kind of cultural progress simply does not offset their dereliction of duty as protectors of international peace and security. And if they cannot correct their course, they will face coups of their own.