Archive for November, 2017

November 17, 2017

Key Elements of Trump Foreign Policy

Ten months into the Trump administration, what are the key elements of Trump foreign policy? A few thoughts.

On policy issues, the Trump administration has favored

1) Downplaying human rights concerns and democracy promotion (e.g. warm embrace of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Philippines. Mostly quiet regarding Israeli settlements). Whether this de-emphasis is important depends in part on whether you think this is a rhetorical shift or a substantive change in US policy.

2) Replacing multilateral trade deals with, in theory, bilateral ones. The most prominent example was the US pullout from the TPP. I have not seen evidence of any new bilateral trade agreements or negotiations toward that end. (But I’m not a trade person so please let me know what I missed.)

3) Rejecting climate change science and action, whether that means pulling out of the Paris agreement or silencing US reports and scientists at EPA and elsewhere in the US government. This reminds me of a related domestic-international issue, the willingness to sacrifice US science leadership or university R&D leadership – and the related impact on the US economy and US innovation – in order to attack scientists and universities.

4) Making tighter borders, lowering immigration, and reducing refugee acceptance.  Deportations. Given the president’s expressed sympathy for white supremacists after Charlottesville, I’d guess this is a bigoted fear of people who are not white. Other words that come to mind include nativism and xenophobia. President Trump’s base likes his opposition to a multi-ethnic, global United States, and he is happy to oblige.

5) More amenable to sticking with current US allies after some early whinging about traditional European allies and burden-sharing. He seems to have adopted a new friend, Putin’s Russia. More to come on that one!

6) Possibly downplaying negotiations in potential conflict situations, e.g. Iran, North Korea, Israel-Palestine. But this hostility toward negotiating could vary, e.g. the recent report on future Israel-Palestine talks. Trump has been highly inconsistent regarding whether he thinks the United States should negotiate with North Korea.

Meanwhile, Secretary Rex Tillerson is emptying the State Department of experienced and capable diplomats. The loss of experience, unfilled positions, and disinterest in consulting expertise further undermines the diplomatic pathway. Overall – not just at State – how much strategic planning happening? For example, it is hard to discern any kind of vision for US policy toward the Middle East.

7) A heavy emphasis on military force. The dominant (literally) Trump view: coerce and threaten to get your way in international affairs. Including

  • increasing risk of nuclear war (Exhibit A: North Korea tweets)
  • threatening Iran. Is US war, with Saudi help or encouragement, versus Iran possible? Iraq 2002-2003 redux? Aside: With its ally in Riyadh, the US is allied with the weaker or less capable actor in the Iran-Saudi relationship. Iran has repeatedly outplayed the Saudis.
  • Continuing Obama military interventionist policy in several cases: vs ISIS in Iraq and Syria (with all the human suffering caused by US bombing); supporting Saudis in Yemen; continuing drone or other strikes in Somalia etc
  • Slight change in Afghanistan with a few thousand more US military personnel. But otherwise Trump policy seems similar.
  • What will the administration do in Syria and with ties to Syrian Kurds now that ISIS is in a much weaker? Trump seems content to not be deeply involved in the evolution of Syria, unlike Russia or Iran.

What would you add or modify?