As Donald Trump’s presidency careens into its third year leaving a wake of avarice, cruelty and enduring damage to American democracy and America’s standing in the world in its wake, it is still difficult for many Americans to believe this can go on much longer. Some hold out for Robert Mueller III to be a deus ex machina whose findings will lead to impeachment and removal from office for the President, but that is very unlikely. Others believe that the Donald Trump will tire of the office and the ongoing investigations and resign after securing a promise of a pardon from Mike Pence, who as vice-president would assume the presidency in such a circumstance, but that ignores the likelihood that Trump would then face legal problems from state Attorneys General, particularly in New York. Still others believe that Trump will lose the 2020 election. That is a real likelihood, but there is no certainty that Trump would leave office even if he loses. Despite all this, Trump will not be President forever. Ultimately, an election defeat in 2020 could push him out of office. Similarly, if he is reelected, he would probably leave after his second term. Moreover, Trump is a man in his mid-seventies who is overweight, eats a poor diet and rarely exercises. There are some actuarial realities in that area that cannot be ignored.
The news that a large ice shelf in Antarctica has begun to collapse may not be as important as Karl Rove's opinion of Hillary Clinton's glasses, or Timothy Geithner's descriptions of the early years of Barack Obama's presidency, but it should still not be ignored entirely. Although there are still some, including unfortunately powerful government officials like Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl), who do not recognize the import, or indeed reality, of global climate change, and the role of human activity in that, climate change can no longer be ignored.
The combination of continued population growth, the rumblings of global climate change and consistently increasing demands for all resources including energy, but also for water and land makes all of us particularly vulnerable to natural disasters like the one we have just witnessed. The tsunami should help demonstrate the import of investing in infrastructure and preparing for contingencies, but even doing these things will not be enough.
It is likely that by the time 2011 winds down, the major international affairs questions dominating the news will include issues that seem distant in the first week of the year. Every year brings surprises, unforeseen wars, natural disasters and the like, but it is also possible to look with some confidence towards the New Year and identify some foreign policy issues, or questions, that are likely to become more important during the year.
To some extent this is inevitable in an age when the biggest security threats to the U.S. come from terrorist networks with global reach and where climate change and economic crises affect all parts of the world. Nonetheless, the extent of U.S. commitment everywhere, which was once a sign of the American ascendancy, now bears many signs of being part of America’s decline. This will likely become more apparent and problematic if the economy does not recover. As local and national governments are stressed and basic domestic needs become more and more difficult for governments to afford, it is likely that voices calling for a more modest foreign policy with fewer commitments abroad will be stronger, but policy makers will find it very difficult to turn that aspiration into reality.
During the next ten years, the U.S. will confront a broad range of policy challenges. Some will likely be largely unchanged over the course of the decade. Others, like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the fight against terrorism will probably remain important issues but will change and evolve during the decade. There are some issues, however, which seem somewhat remote today, but which may dominate headlines by the year 2020. We cannot, of course, know for certain what these issues are, but the five issues below all may become very important by 2020.
Obama’s first year in office, while far from a foreign policy failure, has not brought resolution to any of the major challenges facing the U.S. Wars continue in Afghanistan and Iraq; peace remains more elusive than ever in the Middle East; Iran is still on the brink of developing nuclear weapons; significant parts of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union remain concerned about renewed Russian power in that region and the global economic downturn has raised the possibility of political instability in much of the world. This was the capstone year of a decade that has included the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001, a conflict in Iraq that has lasted considerably longer than the U.S. involvement in World War II, plummeting U.S. popularity abroad, the stalling, or even reversal, of the spread of democracy, and rising military, political and economic threats to the U.S. from Teheran to Beijing and from Moscow to Caracas.