Donald Trump’s foreign policy up, until recently, was largely a pleasant surprise. He had pursued a solid anti-Iran strategy in the Middle East. Plus, despite the Putinphilia from the campaign, has arguably been tougher on Russia than Obama.
Then it all went wrong.
Foreign Policy Problems
Trump has never been able to shed his 16th century view of trade, and it has needlessly ruffled allied feathers. It takes a lot to get an American conservative to side with anybody named Trudeau on anything. However, the idea that the United States needs high tariffs on steel imports from Canada is simply insulting.
It is even more insulting when you consider the ZTE case no more than a couple of weeks earlier. Chinese telecom company ZTE was set to go under for violating American sanctions on North Korea and Iran. However, Trump intervened on ZTE after Xi Jingping lamented that the company’s demise would cost tens of thousands of jobs. ZTE should have gone under, but was instead saved by President Donald “We’ve got to be tough on China” Trump.
Every alliance is going to have moments of tension with political odd couples. However, tariffs on Canada and the EU create needless tension, while also harming the United States. Trump practically jumped to work with Xi, but treated our democratic neighbor to the north like a national security threat.
Trump also reverted back to his old habits at the recent G-7 summit in Quebec. Shocking many, Trump said that Russia should be allowed to re-join the group. He suggested this in spite of the fact that Moscow has not changed its behavior since the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
However, perhaps the biggest step backwards on foreign policy has been the North Korean summit that occurred on Monday. It was justified under the premise that Kim Jong-un had changed. However, reports came out that North Korea had not, in fact, destroyed their nuclear test tunnels.
On learning that the regime was up to its old deceptive tricks, the summit should have been canceled for good. It wasn’t, and may ultimately represent a massive foreign policy failure.
North Korean Pandering
Trump gave Kim major propaganda victories even before the summit began. Administration officials began referring to Kim as “Chairman,” and Trump himself said that Kim “loves his people.” Kim was able to shake hands with the President of the United States on stage with alternating US and North Korean flags in the background. This imagery allowed Kim to portray himself as Trump’s equal.
The actual contents of the summit weren’t much better. It was one thing to argue that realpolitik says we should talk to Kim. However, Trump viewed the summit as the end itself, rather than the means to an end to achieve a national interest. Any notion that diplomacy is the ability to tell your adversary to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip was quickly thrown out the window.
The ultimate “deal” that came out of the summit was entirely underwhelming. Trump is supposedly the greatest deal maker in the history of deal making. However, he only got Kim to agree to a couple of unoriginal platitudinal points. There was no talk about human rights reforms whatsoever.
Further, Trump started repeating North Korean propaganda about “war games” (i.e. perfectly legitimate joint military exercises between decades-long defensive allies). He called our training exercises “inappropriate,” sending Moon Jae-in, the South Korean Defense Ministry, and the Pentagon all scrambling.
Trump has also fully stopped tweeting about the size and capabilities of the two leaders’ respective “nuclear buttons.” Now, he may potentially play golf with the North Korean dictator at Mar-a-lago. It was wrong for Obama to go to Cuba and watch a baseball game with Raul Castro. To befriend and invite the head of the world’s largest gulag to Florida to play golf? Such an event would be so bad that words cannot describe it.
Even Worse Than Before
A year ago, everyone was talking about about how Trump would get us all killed in a nuclear war. More recently, pundits argued that John Bolton was also going to get us all killed. However, Trump has now staked out a position to the left of South Korea’s left-wing President. Add to this reports that say Trump privately questions the need to have American troops in South Korea? Trump is on pace to be the most left-wing President on North Korea since Jimmy Carter, if not ever.
The president got into office banging the pots and pans about China. But now, again, he has sided with China and its proxy over American allies.
President Trump, for the first year or so, had a fairly decent foreign policy track record. However, Trump’s old, bad instincts have returned. He’s re-asserting both his massive ego and his wrongheaded belief that relations with countries are to be judged on balance sheets. Trump is about to do tremendous damage to this country if he does not reverse course.