Donald Trump’s election has thrown key US alliances into doubt, but could it yet destroy the liberal world order and the West as we know it?
During a three-nation foreign trip, Obama will meet the leaders of Britain, China, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Peru among others.
Most of them will have similar questions: “How on Earth did this happen? What do we do now?”
Obama has spent a year telling interlocutors that the Republican billionaire would never be elected and that he was a threat to American democracy and the global system.
Now Obama will try to reassure allies that Trump’s America will not bring the global order crashing to the ground.
Just another Republican?
Trump has vowed to rip up trade deals, questioned support for allies whose security depends on American military largess and warmly embraced Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Seen from the Obama White House or European capitals, the best case scenario is that Trump’s is just another Republican White House.
Insiders point to Trump’s disinterest in policy as evidence that he plans to be a titular or ceremonial president.
Vice President Mike Pence, they argue, will be the real president or at least behave like a prime minister.
Trump would be political kryptonite in Europe, avoided like the plague by leaders like Francois Hollande or Angela Merkel who are seeking reelection. But at least the sky wouldn’t fall.
Yet some see that outlook as hopelessly optimistic.
The Imperial presidency
Once he gets his feet under the Resolute Desk, is Trump – an alpha male chief executive all his life – really likely to shrink into the background?
And if not, the world’s preeminent economic and military power would be run by a capricious leader with questionable respect for the rule of law.
In his first week as president-elect, Trump changed course on his opposition to Obamacare and decried “professional protesters, incited by the media” in a Tweet before reversing himself.
Those asking what Trump thinks about North Korea or Syria might get a different answer depending on what day he is tweeting.