Archive for March, 2017

March 13, 2017

Early Trump Foreign Policy: A Quick Analysis

What does early Trump foreign policy look like?

The anti-globalism piece is prominent. The Republican administration withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a move seen as a major symbol of its stated rejection of free trade. Interactions with Mexico have been rocky, but we lack clarity on possible changes in trade relations (NAFTA!) or on border wall construction.

In addition, President Trump issued two executive orders blocking immigration from seven six countries – the Muslim Ban – and halting the admission of refugees to the United States. The racial and religious prejudice underlying the moves on immigration are apparent in Trump’s bigoted rhetoric before and after assuming office, including his own talk of imposing a Muslim Ban; the list of targeted countries which have no connection to improving national security according to the Department of Homeland Security but do have largely Muslim populations; the presence of Steve Bannon, creator of a media platform for white supremacists, as a close presidential advisor; the explicit bigotry of a Trump ally, Rep. Steve King (Iowa); and the reckless behavior of ICE and CBP under Trump.

One Republican member of Congress called out Rep. King’s white supremacist rhetoric:

A traveler at the Houston airport tweeted:

Zand works for BBC and was headed to SXSW. The whole thread of his trip for the UK to Texas is quite a read. (Or, for another example, read about Muhammad Ali Jr’s experiences. Or ICE raids.)

Pulling back from the world may also explain the many empty offices in important US departments that interact with the world, whether on economic (Commerce, Treasury) or diplomatic (State) matters. (Granted, it may also be a lack or preparedness for a well-functioning transition.) At almost every Federal Department, most levels just below the Secretary remain unfilled with no nominee:


Meanwhile, the expectation of major budget cuts including at Commerce and State, as well as to foreign aid, will further curtail the US international presence. Far from being a force for fossil fuels, as some critics expected, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appears largely absent from the policy process. Only a few officials dealing with international and national security issues received much outside praise, e.g. Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. Overall, the administration’s comfort with isolationism and isolationism’s nativist (racist) past is front and center.

That said, at least two counterpoints to isolationism stand out.

1) The president is quite enamored with US military strength. In addition to talk of increasing the US military budget by $54 billion, the possibility of (much) deeper US military intervention in Syria and Iraq seems real. We’ve already seen more US Marines in Syria. Or, elsewhere in the Middle East, more drone strikes in Yemen. And we have not heard much yet about Afghanistan.

2) He is also talking about finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At a February 15 press availability with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump seemed interested in finding a deal. More recently, President Trump spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the administration retained two diplomats who had worked on Israel-Palestine issues under President Barack Obama.

Beyond rhetoric, we don’t know much yet about how the administration will handle Russia (given the many ties during the campaign) and related issues like Ukraine; the European Union; and China (after Trump’s botched phone call as President-Elect). These are very important issues of international order and great power politics. Could the Republican Party under Trump seek to be the international leader of a nativist, nationalist ideological movement and repeatedly tangle with proponents of globalism, liberalism, and neo-liberalism? Quite possibly.

North Korea remains a wildcard. When the first international crisis hits, with Pyongyang or some other rival, how will the Trump administration react? Stay tuned.

What would you add to the list?