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What in the world will Trump do?

December 14, 2016

President elect Donald Trump; Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Over 300 students, faculty and community members packed into Room 210 at Kane Hall on November 28 to hear a panel of Jackson School professors talk about the implications of a Trump presidency on China, Russia, European Union, the Middle East and refugees and immigrants in the U.S.

Jackson School Director Reşat Kasaba moderated the event, called “Trump and The World,” opening the evening discussion noting how the election of Donald Trump impacts not only us here in the United States but also the lives of people and nations around the world.

“We are fortunate to have in the Jackson School regional experts that can comment and share their interpretation of the consequences of Trump’s election,” he said.

[Watch the full two-hour panel discussion here]

Jackson School Director Prof. Reşat Kasaba

Jackson School Director Prof. Reşat Kasaba

Trump and China
The first speaker, China expert and Professor David Bachman said it is clear based on the campaign that “Trump will challenge China and China will challenge Trump.” Focusing mainly on economic and trade connections between the U.S. and China, Bachman emphasized that contrary to what Trump said during his campaign, calling China ‘a currency manipulator,’ the Chinese currency is not undervalued due to China’s own economic slowdown.

Bachman used the example of the production costs of an iPhone to refute another of Trump’s claims about China as a threat to trade and the U.S. economy.

Mentioning at least one area of contention between the U.S. and China, Bachman spoke of the South China Sea. China for its part can impose big costs on the U.S., he noted, and challenge the Trump administration by improving ties with the Philippines and Malaysia. China may also try to promote domestic innovation and increase its military force and work to advance where the U.S. will not be present.

“It is fair to conclude at least, based on what we know now, that Trump’s foreign policy focus is on the Middle East and fundamental Islam,” said Bachman, underscoring that as far as Asia is concerned the future is unclear.

Trump and Russia
The second speaker, Director of the Ellison Center for Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies and Professor Scott Radnitz stated that Russia has been the “odd” player in this election. While both parties spoke about Russia, he noted, Trump expressed a pro-Russia sentiment and spoke against his party’s [Republican] line. Radnitz attributed Trump’s positive attitude toward Putin based on Trump’s own personality and managerial style.

Jackson school faculty members: Prof. David Bahman (on the right), Prof. Sabine Lang, Prof. Scott Radnitz and Prof. Kathie Friedman

Jackson school faculty members: Prof. David Bachman (on the right), Prof. Sabine Lang, Prof. Scott Radnitz and Prof. Kathie Friedman

Radnitz addressed another alarming similarity between the two leaders: protest and opposition. Putin, he said, views protests as illegitimate and signs of anarchy. Trump spoke favorably of China’s response to the 1989 Tiananmen square events versus the American discourse on protest as an exercise of democracy.

Concluding with one possible scenario, Radnitz said Trump’s advisors seem to be very pro-Putin and could push him to act on a “grand bargain” between the two powers that will mitigate the tension and lower the risk of direct confrontation. But this, he underlined, would be at the expense of angering U.S. allies in Europe and posing a serious threat to the Baltic states.

Trump and Europe
Director of the Center for West European Studies and Professor Sabine Lang expressed her concern on Trump’s ability to fuel anti-immigration rhetoric in Europe. Lang mentioned that the upcoming year is an election year in several key European nations.

“We are already seeing how Trump’s success motivated Dutch leader Geert Wilders of the radical right Party for Freedom that has campaigned to stop what he views as the ‘Islamisation of the Netherlands’,” she said. “The same thing is happening with the recent ascendance of French populist leader Marine Le Pen [in France].”

Lang said the EU will be deeply affected by Trump’s presidency, and if any of the campaign promises are true, it is far worse than Brexit, which is somewhat containable. For example, she noted, Trump views the EU as ‘difficult and bureaucratic’. He attacked Chancellor of German Angela Merkel’s immigration and refugee actions.

Brussels, added Lang, is in “silent panic,” as in part it is unclear Trump’s stance on economic policies.

Trump and immigration in the U.S.
Migration specialist Professor Kathie Friedman opened her remarks by emphasizing that “when it comes to the protection of human rights it is impossible to come to Trump’s presidency with an open mind.”

Friedman focused on correcting the lies and misinformation spread by Trump during his campaign regarding immigrants, refugees and religious minorities. She highlighted America’s commitment to admit refugees from the Middle East after a series of long and tedious security screenings.

“All refugees are screened by several agencies over years, they are interviewed and assessed by professionals outside the U.S. before being resettled here,” she emphasized.

Friedman quoted studies showing the general support of Americans in favor of refugees and immigrants, and compared well-researched estimates from agencies such as Homeland Security and Pew Research to show that the number of undocumented immigrants is less than half of Trump’s claim of upward of 30 million.

Over 300 students, faculty and community members attended the panel discussion

Over 300 students, faculty and community members attended the panel discussion

She expressed concern about Trump’s plan to eliminate the protection of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) — which is not an amnesty or a path to citizenship – risks hundreds of thousands including 100 to 300 UW students.

Friedman concluded noting Seattle as one of many declared sanctuary cities that instruct local law enforcement officers not to cooperate with ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) unless the person involved committed a serious crime.

Trump and the Middle East
The last speaker was Middle East and state-society expert Professor Joel Migdal, who spoke via Skype from Tel-Aviv, Israel.

Migdal said Trump’s election baffled and surprised many leaders in the region, and adds extreme uncertainty to a region already caught up in turmoil. Migdal spoke of six shocks the Middle East has experienced in the past two decades: The U.S. invasion of Iraq; the Arab Spring; U.S. withdrawal from Iraq; civil wars in Syria and Yemen; and, the emergence of ISIS.

“The Arab core of the Middle East, which is the basic core, is now essentially disintegrated. Leaders in those countries are no longer able to call the shots domestically and have lost their position in the region,” said Migdal. “The non-Arab countries – Iran, Turkey and Israel – are going through their own changes and reassessing their influence in the region as a result.”

In looking to the future, he said a few elements and recent appointments give indication about Trump’s reign.

One concern is Trump’s lack of interest in the region will further destabilize the area. Trump expressed throughout the campaign his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and disagreed with Obama’s attempt to engage Iran diplomatically. Trump also discussed the need to defeat ISIS. These goals, Migdal noted, bear contradictions since eliminating ISIS means tightening ties with Russia – a close ally of Iran that backs Assad’s government in Syria.

Teaming up with Russia would mean getting close to Iran and going against the U.S. position in Syria which has consistently called upon Assad to step down.

Middle-East expert prof. Joel Migdal giving comments via Skype

Middle East expert Professor Joel Migdal giving comments via Skype

All the panelists concluded that the main problems are Trump’s ambiguity, incoherence and inconsistency, especially on foreign policy issues. There are many areas for which Trump did not lay out a clear strategy, while in other instances he made promises that are either unfeasible or too costly.

In all arenas, it would be difficult for Trump to follow through with his campaign promises, they said, considering the immense complexity of these issues.

This event was sponsored by the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and the Center for Global Studies at the University of Washington.

Click here to view the full event recording