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The domestic political turmoil over Russian interference in our politics is in itself an indication of the reality of globalization in this cyber age, complete with foreign hacking and fake news generated abroad.

The Trump administration has in many respects attempted to deny that reality, even though in many respects it keeps bumping up against it. And there is still much that is unclear, not to mention inconsistent, about the Trump foreign policy.

In broad terms, what we see in these first months of the Trump presidency is nationalism/Trumpism vs. internationalism/globalism. Trump talks the nationalist game, favoring a unilateral approach, going against the traditional principles and values characterizing the American role in international relations.

But the world continues to spin and there is a long list of hot spots and complex cases. That list would include not only the U.S.-Russia contretemps, but hot and cold relations with China and the ongoing dispute over the South China Sea; North Korea, Afghanistan, Turkey and the Kurds, Saudi Arabia and the rift over Qatar, NATO, the Paris climate accords, and, of course, Syria and much more.

Mr. Trump and his team (with many key positions yet unfilled) have not come to terms with the phenomenon of chain linkage, a central factor in international relations. A clear example of this involves the decision to provide arms to the Syrian Kurds to fight against the Islamic State. However, Turkey, a NATO member which has been an important U.S. ally, has vociferously opposed arming the Kurds, considered by Turkey to be terrorists.

Then there's the mess involving Qatar, which includes contradictions within the Trump administration about what the U.S. role should be. Seemingly spurred by what he considered to be a resounding welcome when he visited Saudi Arabia recently, Trump has sided with the Saudis and four other Sunni states in a regional feud with oil-rich Qatar. He issued a series of tweets taking credit for Saudi Arabia's effort to isolate Qatar. But Qatar is the home of the forward headquarters of the U.S. military central command. This despite indications Qatar has a history of aiding some terrorist groups and has generally sided with Shiite Iran, an arch-enemy of the Saudis. There are plenty of reasons to criticize Qatar, but it is also apparent that the Saudis have their own record of support for radical elements. And there's that nation's less-than-stellar record on human rights.

From a geopolitical perspective, Iran, Turkey and Russia are aligned with the maverick Qatar while Egypt and the United Arab Emirates stand with the Saudis. These are examples of chain linkage -- the reaction that can be set in motion by developments in or policies or actions of other nations. Policies toward one nation or issue may have major ramifications for other nations.

Trump talks of American national interests, but we need to understand that other nations have their interests and they are not necessarily going to coincide with ours. We have seen this recently with some of the major European countries. Note that China is poised to work more closely with the Europeans and fill the void on the Paris accord. China is also pushing ahead with its Belt and Road initiative to increase connections with Asia, Africa and Europe following the path of the ancient Silk Road. And Trump's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership opens a route for more Chinese economic sway.

An over-simplified view of trade effects fails to recognize the reality of globalization. Arkansas officials have recently boasted of plans for two major Chinese industrial locations in the state. In remarks at the Governor's Awards for Excellence in Global Trade, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently said, "We are expanding our global footprint and rightfully so" and said that the "global marketplace is critical to us," noting that he made that point to President Trump. Hutchinson also stressed the importance of other exports, including rice. Several members of the Arkansas congressional delegation have been pushing hard to reduce restrictions on exports to Cuba, which could be a primary market for Arkansas rice. But Trump is taking about rolling back the Obama opening to Cuba.

The Trump administration needs to recognize the reality of globalization and chain linkage and to understand that trade and international security policy are not one-way streets or zero-sum games.

Commentary on 06/15/2017

Print Headline: Global realities

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