In his State of the Union address, Donald Trump warned grimly of “rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values.” In response, he demanded that Congress give even more money to “our great military” and fund the growth and modernization of the US nuclear arsenal, making it “so strong and so powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else.” And yet, in a near biblical performance in his first year in office, President Trump inadvertently rolled out a love-thy-enemy set of policies that only enhanced the roles of both of those challengers, favors never imagined by the Robert Mueller Russia investigation.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that last October in Beijing in his speech to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party, Chinese President Xi Jinping displayed the sort of confidence that befits a true rising power on planet Earth. With remarkable chutzpah, he anointed his country the leading global force on contemporary political, economic, and environmental issues by declaring, “It is time for us to take center stage in the world and to make a greater contribution to humankind.” With the unintended help of Donald Trump, he could indeed make it so.
Two months later in Washington, President Trump launched his National Security Strategy (NSS), an uninspired hodgepodge lacking in either vision or clarity. It did, however, return the United States to the Cold War era by identifying China and Russia as the two main challengers to its power, influence, and interests, though offering no serious thoughts about what to do on the subject (except dump more money into the Pentagon budget and the American nuclear arsenal).
In reality, many of Trump’s actions, statements, and tweets in the months before the release of that document provided Beijing and Moscow with further opportunities to extend their influence and power.
On the eve of the anniversary of Trump’s first year in office, for instance, a Gallup survey of 134 countries showed a startling drop—from 48 percent under Barack Obama to 30 percent under Trump—in global approval of Washington’s role in the world. For a president who values records, that was an achievement: the worst figure since Gallup started recording them in 2007. China, on the other hand, surged to 31 percent and Russia to 27 percent. And that was before President Trump referred to various unnamed African nations as “shithole countries.”
Here, then, is a list of favors that Donald Trump has done for America’s latest challengers and how they have reacted on what, after almost two decades of a sole-superpower global order, is once again a planet with more than one world power.