Stephen Harper speaks on Trump and the future of US foreign policy

Clement Allard / Canadian Press


Donald Trump will reverse the cornerstone of American foreign policy, said former Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a presentation on global politics in New Delhi.  Harper gave a 40 minute speech on foreign policy in the face of an increasingly uncertain world, touching on recent populist movements and what may have caused them.

Brexit and Trump are signs of growing political uncertainty, an “unmistakable” trend in global politics, warned Harper, especially in “places we used to think of as the most politically stable in the world.”

“Look at 2016 — the upset vote in the Brexit referendum, the victory of Donald Trump in the American presidential election, the continuing rise of so called populists movements across Europe… all of these things that seem to occur contrary to expectations, predictions, and all of the experts.”

And things are only going to get worse, asserts the former Prime Minister, particularly because those who support these populist movements are often branded as “stupid, bigoted, and worse.”

“Just because a very wide establishment and expert consensus exists, does not mean the wider public is going to accept that judgment in whole or in part. In fact, it may actually encourage them to reject the judgment.”

Harper explained these events as the reaction of a weakened middle class to the harsh realities of widespread globalization. The western world has seen “big changes,” he explains, which have been “mostly negative for ordinary people.”

“Incomes for the middle and working class populations have been stagnant or declining. I would say Canada under my government was actually an exception to that, which is why we don’t have, yet, a populist movement.”

The western world now faces an emerging “major political cleavage” between people who “cross borders”, and people who “live within borders”, with national and local concerns and identities. One of the consequences of this cleavage are newly fervent populist support for leaders such as Trump.

“There are two things on international affairs that I believe he is going to do that are truly game changers. First Donald Trump is going to reverse the cornerstone of seven decades of American foreign policy. That is, he is going to reject and reverse the idea that the United States has an overarching responsibility for global affairs.”

The American people voted for this, says Harper, because they want to live in a multipolar world. Harper warned that they “may not like it as much as [they] thought they would.”

“I believe the US under Trump will focus squarely on America’s vital national interest, narrowly defined, especially its economic interest.”

However, the US will still work with its “friends and allies”, said Harper, so long as “they are prepared to bring real assets to the table.”

“It is possible that Trump’s approach could actually lead to much more stable American foreign policy,” says Harper. He points towards his own experiences with US foreign policy, which he described as “swinging back and forth” between “overreaching global adventures,” and “withering self-criticism and retreat.”

“Trump’s approach could avoid both the tendency for the US in one era to overestimate its capabilities, and in another era to overstate its limitations.”

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