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Trump’s fault or a disaster of our own making? Debate heats up around the impact of Trump 2.0

For many in Australia’s defence and national security community, it is the worst potential outcome – a second, uncompromising Trump administration. For others, the challenges we face and our lacklustre response are purely our own fault, meaning we need to step up our game.

For many in Australia’s defence and national security community, it is the worst potential outcome – a second, uncompromising Trump administration. For others, the challenges we face and our lacklustre response are purely our own fault, meaning we need to step up our game.

Depending on who you ask, Trump is the reincarnation of Hitler, or perhaps, in a less emotive comparison, more akin to Caesar and his threat to the American republic.

For others, his verbose bluster hides a policy platform designed to rebuild America at home, secure its borders, and reinvigorate America’s industrial and economic capacity while balancing the responsibilities of the “Leader of the Free World” by taking what the Hoover Institution’s Victor Davis Hanson described as a “Jacksonian” approach to foreign relations.

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Either way, it is looking increasingly likely that Donald Trump will be elected as the President of the United States, replacing an ailing, bumbling, and clearly tired Joe Biden come November.

Trump is actively positioning himself as a champion of the “forgotten Americans” or the “deplorables”, as branded by failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

In doing so, Trump has promised in a manner very similar to the other great Republican outsider, Ronald Reagan, to “Make America Great Again”.

In speaking directly to the swathes of middle-and working-class Americans across the flyover states and the Rust Belt of the formerly mighty US industrial base, he acknowledged their lived experience that America’s position as the global hegemon and the globalisation championed by successive administrations had ultimately failed them.

This has set a cat among the pigeons for many in the Western political, media, and defence and national security class, playing right into Trump’s narrative about an establishment that has, at best, active disdain and, at worst, active contempt for the middle and working classes.

Australia, in particular, has had a rather rocky relationship with Trump and his potential has only created further tension and debate amid Australia’s political, defence, and national security ecosystem, with some blaming him and his transactional approach to security for our own declining readiness and capability.

On one side, we have veteran political journalist and The Sydney Morning Herald’s international editor, Peter Hartcher who asked, “Now that Donald Trump is the inevitable Republican candidate for the US presidency, countries everywhere need to prepare. Can Australia Trump-proof itself somehow?”

For the counterpoint, we have Dr Elizabeth Buchanan for The Australian, who countered the hysteria of Hartcher, “Fears abound that a Trump presidential win in November will lead to the unravelling of US-Australia ‘mateship’ and place Canberra in a precarious security position, casting Australia adrift amid its most challenging strategic environment in decades. But this position sets out to give Donald Trump undue credit for Australia’s own defence and security oversights.”

But who is right?

Cope and seethe or a realistic view

Forming the basis of Hartcher’s argument is a conversation with Mike Green of Sydney University’s United States Studies Centre (USSC), one of the 50 “never Trumpers” among the Republican Party who have earned the title of RINO or “Republican in name only” for their continued support for the global international order, while ignoring the plight of working- and middle-class America.

As part of his warning about a second Trump presidency, Green warned Australia not to “panic” in a manner similar to the way Europe has begun to do in light of recent rhetoric from Trump regarding the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the abysmal state of European defence funding.

This has been a longstanding point of contention for successive US presidents like George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who frequently chastised European leaders, but did little beyond stern words.

Green stated, “is what not to do – do not panic like the Europeans. They have more reason to worry than Australia or Japan ... Europe represents everything they hate – open immigration, progressive social policy like gay marriage and abortion, the growth of the bureaucracy and the weakening of the state.”

The oxymoron of that final point aside, it is important to be reminded of previous chastising of progressive hero Barack Obama for European allies, where he said, Free riders aggravate me.”

Indeed, even in Obama’s 2016 State of the Union, he remarked, We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it’s done with the best of intentions. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it’s the lesson of Iraq – and we should have learned it by now … on issues of global concern, we will mobilise the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.”

Green went further, stating, “a Trump administration would be full of people who are Asia-firsters. I don’t agree with them, but they are all talking about pulling out of Ukraine to shift resources to Asia ... So Canberra shouldn’t panic, they have something to work with there.”

That isn’t to say that Green gives the Indo-Pacific under a second Trump administration a clean bill of health. He does add that Australia frets too much about Trump cancelling the AUKUS agreement, however, his key concerns are the potential flashpoints of Taiwan and Korea.

Green stated, “So Canberra shouldn’t panic, they have something to work with there. What worries me most is that there’s a Taiwan crisis and Trump says, ‘I won’t defend Taiwan’, or there’s a Korea crisis and Trump says, ‘I won’t defend South Korea, I’ll meet Kim Jong-un’.”

Why preventing the loss of human life through diplomacy and dialogue, with very real repercussions (Trump’s decisiveness in Syria and with the killing of Soleimani stand out as examples) is a bad thing remains to be seen, by that logic, should Kennedy have actively bombed Cuba and kickstarted nuclear Armageddon rather than speaking with Krushchev?

I’d be more worried about “red lines” that have no repercussions *cough* Obama *cough*, than dialogue that has very real repercussions, just saying.

Much ado about nothing and creating our own reality

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the new age movement and elements of eastern mysticism will be familiar with the concept of “creating one’s own reality” through the woo-woo concept of “manifestation”.

For Dr Elizabeth Buchanan, this is just the case when it comes to Australia’s strategic and national security posture and policy making is more a result of our own lack of seriousness on the issue that has created our reality.

Dr Buchanan stated, “Arguing Australia will be left out in the cold, forced to muster our own defences as Trump’s America retreats into isolation, betrays a clear failure to understand our strategic environment. We are not (yet) atop a foreign enemy’s list for impending invasion.”

Equally, Buchanan stressed that Australia’s strategic importance to Washington has ebbed and flowed based on the broader regional and global security context, not dissimilar to the way it ebbed and flowed during our relationship of strategic dependence upon the British Empire prior to 1942.

Detailing this, Buchanan stated, “Australia’s significance to Uncle Sam has always shifted as the objectives or aims of US foreign policy change. Franklin Roosevelt once quipped Australia was of no vital interest to the US, making it clear Washington was unlikely to come to Canberra’s aid if attacked. But the context for this was cemented in Europe as the theatre of war. With World War II reaching the Pacific, US objectives pivoted – as did the assessment of Australia’s utility to Washington’s strategic interests.”

Importantly, what is often overlooked by many in Australia’s political and strategic policy communities is the important role Australia plays in US Indo-Pacific strategy by virtue of its geographic location.

An important point not lost on Buchanan, who stated, “Bridging the Indian and Pacific oceans, Australia is critical to US grand strategy as it readies itself to compete for the long haul with China, chasing the US principal foreign interest of keeping global waterways free and flowing. This plainly makes Canberra an enduring strategic interest for the US, Trump 2.0 or not.”

This position is reinforced by initiatives like the US Force Posture Initiatives, installations like Pine Gap and the Harold E. Holt communications array and of course, Submarine Rotational Force-West (SRF-W) as part of the AUKUS agreement that only serve to further reinforce the importance of Australia to the United States.

That isn’t to say that there won’t be challenges for Australia in the event of Trump 2.0, something Buchanan is clear-eyed about.

“Trump 2.0 will force Australia to reconcile politics with values. Resilience in Australia’s industrial base will need to be supercharged. Hard discussions will need to be had as to public agency in the nation’s defence and security. Self-respect is required here. We are a smart, industrious, innovative regional defence and security stakeholder that is highly regarded by the US as an important interlocutor in the Indo-Pacific arena,” Buchanan explained.

These are all critically important aspects of a nation’s sovereignty and were the focus points of many Australian policymakers in the lead-up to the Second World War, which were subsequently shifted into overdrive following the Fall of Singapore and collapse of British power in the east.

What those circumstances demonstrate is that we have done it once, we can do it again, what we require is the national leadership and vision and public by-in to achieve the outcomes.

Buchanan reinforced this point, one I might add has long been laboured by myself, saying, “Trump 2.0 will inject more uncertainty into international politics. But uncertainty is already embedded in our global system and all we can control is how we navigate it. Government’s leadership and clarity over Australia’s domestic redundancies for an uncertain strategic existence has been lacklustre. Review after review, with absent funding plans, an uninspiring national debate and a Defence Department that has atrophied from years of risk-averse thinking, has left Australia exposed.

“Whatever the case, Trump 2.0 won’t be the reason Australia finds itself on the periphery of strategic competition across the next century. We are practically benching ourselves,” Buchanan stated, going further.

My honest question here is, what does Australia really have to lose by seeing Trump 2.0 with clear eyes?

Such an approach will require us to truly invest in ourselves and our own national capabilities to the benefit of all Australians in terms of economic opportunity. It will serve to turn back some of the key points of political division and polarisation and give generations of Australians something to get excited about and invested in.

This feeds into commentary provided by Dr Ross Babbage of the Centre for Strategic Budgetary Assessments who told Defence Connect, “I think what we’ve got to show what’s the vision for Australia, you know, what can we achieve and what you know if we go on the trajectory we are on at the moment. I’ll tell you what, you know, a lot of people, a lot more people in a decade’s time are likely to be either in really dumb jobs or maybe not have jobs at all, and in the society be a lot weaker and will be a lot less prosperous.

“So what we want to say is, look, there’s plenty of scope for doing more and smarter things, encouraging investment to do that, and then there will be some very, very interesting additional jobs and opportunities, a lot of high tech, and so on, I can tell you that, you know, talking to foreign investors, they’re quite keen on principle to work here, and do a lot more here and provide a lot more good jobs for Australians,” he explained.

Final thoughts

Fundamentally, where much of the analysis falls short is as a result of the lens through which many analysts and commentators view foreign affairs, mainly through an almost romantic, “gentlemanly” lens where the realpolitik is done behind the scenes, while empty platitudes, pointless press conference, and joint communiques are the status quo.

This romantic world view often leaves us vulnerable as a result of viewing the world as they would like it to be, rather than how it actually is.

Simply put, our world, whether we like to admit it or not, is a jungle and the law of the jungle is one of when the lion is hungry, he eats.

This uncomfortable reality is something we are now witnessing in real time with the chaos sweeping across the world in the face of the seemingly weak Biden administration.

It is understandable then that when a brash, womanising billionaire with a no-nonsense approach to life, who prioritises loyalty and competence, the “experts” who view the world in a romantic manner feel put off, after all, their advice is only accurate if the world plays by a set of rules no one else seems willing to play by now.

In this era of renewed competition between autarchy and democracy, this is a conversation that needs to be had in the open with the Australian people, as ultimately, they will be called upon to help implement it, to consent to the direction, and to defend it should diplomacy fail.

This requires a greater degree of transparency and a culture of collaboration between the nation’s strategic policymakers and elected officials and the constituents they represent and serve – equally, this approach will need to entice the Australian public to once again invest in and believe in the future direction of the nation.

Get involved with the discussion and let us know your thoughts on Australia’s future role and position in the Indo-Pacific region and what you would like to see from Australia’s political leaders in terms of partisan and bipartisan agenda setting in the comments section below, or get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Stephen Kuper

Stephen Kuper

Steve has an extensive career across government, defence industry and advocacy, having previously worked for cabinet ministers at both Federal and State levels.

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