One of the key attributes championed by supporters of President Donald Trump during the campaign was that he was “not a politician,” meaning that he would bring a fresh energy and perspective to statecraft. However, with countless appointments unfilled, a lack of a coherent strategy, and lack of communication within the government, the Trump Administration’s foreign policy is essentially nonexistent.
The evidence is in the administration’s actions. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has often contradicted the president’s previous statements about Russia and Syria. At the State Department, which has all-but cancelled public affairs work that used to send signals to diplomats abroad is seemingly neutered as the White House lets presidential son-in-law take the lead on foreign affairs over Sec. of State Rex Tillerson.
From The Washington Post:
“Part of [the disarray] reflects the fact that these departments are not staffed, and they’re not operating at capacity or at speed,” said Stephen J. Hadley, who served as President George W. Bush’s national security adviser. “These Cabinet secretaries are kind of home alone, working with people that they really don’t know. They don’t have their own people in place, their policies in place, or processes in place yet.”
Inside Trump’s National Security Council, the agency charged with coordinating foreign policy decision-making and consistent messaging, the disarray has been palpable.
After the ouster of Trump loyalist Lt. General (Ret.) Michael Flynn, current Lt. General H.R. McMaster has sought to soften President Trump’s positions and exert more control over who makes these sorts of decisions.
Since he’s never been in public service before, all Americans have to go on are the president’s words from the campaign trail. However, he both promised to do more than President Obama internationally and, at other times, to do less, saying America should take care of itself first. It’s something he continues to do today.
Yet while this may make for good campaign politics, it’s impossible to do both in any practical way.
In both the primary campaign and the general election, Trump showered all his rivals, Republicans and Democrats, with schoolyard taunts. Yet he always treated Barack Obama as his true opponent. On issue after issue—immigration, trade, alliance commitments, nuclear weapons, China, Syria, isis, Iran, Israel—Trump positioned himself, with greater consistency than any other Republican candidate, as the anti-Obama. He disagreed with every element of the president’s foreign policy.
For example, when it comes to Russia, it’s possible that candidate Trump’s positions on the country’s aggression and its leader were formed merely because it was “the opposite” of what the Obama administration’s policy was. This means that he may not have actively sought to empower Russia, but since his strategy was to be opposed to whatever Obama said, he ended up adopting policies the country liked.
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Featured image via screengrab