Foreign Policy

Two Years Later — A Look at Trump's Foreign Policy

From ISIS to North Korea to Iran to Russia to China, the president is making a difference.

Harold Hutchison · Feb. 12, 2019

It’s been a little over two years since President Donald Trump took office. While much of the focus is on the various partisan fights, foreign policy has sometimes cropped up as well, often with pearl-clutching. But what is the real scoop? Let’s take a look at the run-down.

ISIS/Syria

First the good news: The Islamic State is not exactly enjoying life now. The jihadis have lost 99% of their territory. Bunches of them have been terminated. The group, which once inspired terrorist attacks across the globe, is now far more focused on just surviving.

The bad news: The long-term humanitarian crisis from the Syrian Civil War will continue as long as Bashar al-Assad is still in power. Furthermore, Trump’s pullout of over-stretched ground troops from Syria resulted in the resignation of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and rebukes from congressional Republicans. Russia will still have Assad as a client.

Overall: The fact is, Syria is a mess. ISIS will need to be watched and kept down. The real long-term solution was to dump both ISIS and the Assad regime to the ash heap of history. It rates as a job half-done.

North Korea

The good news: The regime is not launching missiles. There have been some steps toward denuclearization. The bellicose rhetoric has been toned down for the most part. There seems to be a real chance that the Korean War will formally end.

The bad news: North Korea still would be classified as a [bleep]hole country. The human-rights record remains atrocious. There are still questions about compliance with past agreements.

Overall: It remains to be seen if Trump’s approach will work, but the new approach, including a summit, seems to be showing some promising results.

Iran

The good: Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is history. America is also building a close relationship with Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf states as a regional counter-balance to Iran.

The bad: The regime is as belligerent as ever, and high-ranking officials routinely threaten Israel with genocide. Iran also has too much influence in Iraq. Missile launches continue as well. And this week marks 40 years since the revolution brought the current regime to power.

Overall: The tough line President Trump is taking can work, but this is still a pretty dangerous regime.

Israel

The good: The long-standing promise to move the American embassy to Jerusalem was finally kept on Trump’s watch. The relationship between the United States and Israel, badly wrecked by Obama, is improving. This is one place where Trump has been on target and expressing the right tone on a consistent basis.

China

The good: Trump has been standing up for American workers harmed by unfair trade practices. The U.S. Navy has also challenged Chinese claims in the South China Sea. Defusing North Korea is also removing some of China’s leverage over the United States.

The bad: While American military readiness is improving, China’s navy is rapidly expanding and improving capabilities, and the U.S. Navy isn’t getting more ships soon enough. The trade war has inflicted some damage on the United States.

Overall: The situation vis-à-vis China is improving, and while Trump has a lot to do with it, so does the Marcus Island motherlode of rare-earth metals, which will cripple China’s leverage over the long term.

Russia

The good: President Trump has been tough on Russia. Ukraine and Georgia have been sold the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile. More importantly, Trump’s support of American energy production — oil and gas, in particular — has lightened Vladimir Putin’s wallet though lowering prices and by generating exports. NATO countries are stepping up to provide the defense funding long ago promised.

The bad: NATO is still nowhere near ready for a major war with Russia, given readiness issues by countries that should be bringing a lot of the power. Russia is also modernizing its military — seeking to narrow the technological gap. The United States has very few forces in NATO proper.

Overall: President Trump’s conduct in office has been very bad for Russia. Putin has lost leverage in using natural gas as a weapon against Eastern Europe, and NATO is starting to step up more.

Elsewhere

The good: Venezuela’s people could see an end to the Chavez-Maduro regime. Canada and Mexico have signed on to a revised version of NAFTA that may help American workers. More importantly, Trump’s trade policy is bringing manufacturing back.

The bad: Trump’s verbal smackdowns can alienate allies. Turkey is still in the grip of the increasingly dictatorial Erdogan. Afghanistan is a stalemate, and the only real talking that should be done with the Taliban should be with bombs, guns, and missiles. Yemen is a mess, but we can’t let Iranian stooges who took potshots at a U.S. Navy ship get control of that country.

Overall: Like all administrations, this is a mixed bag, but Trump still brings mostly positives.

The Big Picture

In two years, Trump has managed to clean up a lot of the messes Obama made with a shift in attitude. In addition, he has managed to hobble Russia’s biggest source of hard currency with energy exports. A lucky find has given an American ally new leverage against China. After Obama threw away much of the progress George W. Bush made in the Global War on Terror, Trump has America making headway again. All in all, Trump has had a mostly successful two years on the foreign policy front.

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