Thursday, April 25th, 2019

Trump’s speech lacks global vision

Instead the State of the Union catalogued Mr Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ agenda but shed little light on how he views many issues of direct interest to Australia.

There was, of course, not one word on climate change, a crucial global issue where the US has abandoned the field.

The rising influence of China is another issue high on Australia’s diplomatic agenda but Mr Trump almost ignored it except for a few sentences about the tariffs he has imposed on $250 billion of Chinese goods in protest at Chinese trade barriers.

Beyond that, Mr Trump’s view of China was benign. He said he had “great respect” for Chinese president Xi Jinping and passed over in silence China’s oppression of its domestic minorities and the tension in the South China Sea and the potential expansion of Chinese influence through its One Belt One Road policy. If Mr Xi agrees to buy more US corn and wheat, Mr Trump gave no sign he would care what China did in the Pacific.

Mr Trump gave few clues for where he is heading on several other issues where Australia must chart a course. After rattling the sabre against North Korea in 2017, Mr Trump now says he has a “good relationship” with dictator Kim Jong-Un and plans to meet him again this month without any clear agenda.

Iran and other players in the Middle East will have noted carefully the part of the speech where Mr Trump declared that “great nations do not fight endless wars”, effectively pledging to speed up the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. No one can criticise Mr Trump for trying to  end the wars that have dragged on for 17 years at enormous cost. Yet the President did nothing in the speech to explain the rationale for US retreat, for example, how he plans to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State or a Taliban takeover of Kabul.

Mr Trump should not be criticised for focusing his speech on areas where he sees domestic political advantage. That is is natural. But it is frustrating that he failed to provide even a hint of a vision to global allies on so many key issues.