Foreign Policy

Outside-the-Box Foreign Policy

For good or ill, Trump isn't maintaining the status quo of previous presidents.

Brian Mark Weber · Dec. 6, 2019

If we’re to believe the policy analysts and talkingheads, President Donald Trump’s foreign policy is a disaster. Of course, the ominous warnings of these so-called experts never seem to pan out.

Maybe what really upsets them is that President Trump is challenging the status quo.

Historian Victor Davis Hanson writes, “Donald Trump promised to shake up U.S. foreign policy. He has certainly done that from the Middle East to Asia. The U.S. is currently engaged in a three-front, maximum-pressure standoff with China, Iran, and North Korea — involving everything from tariffs to possible military action and the strictest sanctions in memory.”

Hanson reminds us, “At first, Trump critics saw these policy recalibrations as either impotent or counterproductive. Pessimists asserted that China, with a population four times the size of the United States’, was fated for world hegemony. Why antagonize those who might soon control our political and economic future?”

But it looks like Trump’s approach is working, at least for now.

North Korea hasn’t given up its nuclear ambitions, but Kim Jong-un has toned down his rhetoric (minus the occasional outlandish threat). As for China, trade negotiations are in the works. And that’s the point. Do we really think Chinese President Xi Jinping would have negotiated with a President Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush? Until Trump came along, U.S. leaders in both parties seemed resigned to China supplanting the U.S. as the world’s pre-eminent economic and military power. So there was nothing to negotiate.

But what about the Kurds? Remember all the criticism from across the spectrum that President Trump had betrayed our trusted friends?

“Trump upended the chessboard in Syria, creating momentary havoc,” Jamie McIntyre writes at the Washington Examiner. “Still, as the dust settles, the U.S. alliance with the Kurds has survived, joint operations against ISIS have resumed, coalition partners have hung tight, and 1,000 U.S. troops have been withdrawn. Chalk some of that up to the ingenuity of U.S. military commanders who have an uncanny knack for turning Trump’s spur-of-the-moment policy pronouncements into a workable strategy.”

We have to remember that it’s in America’s strategic interests to placate both sides. Sure, the Kurds have fought loyally alongside American forces, but we do have NATO obligations involving Turkey. The president’s decision to remove U.S. forces from the region was a minor move that had a broader impact on the region. Recall that it happened just before the successful raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a raid that began in Turkish airspace and relied in part on Turkish intelligence.

In Afghanistan, the likelihood of a deal between the U.S. and the Taliban doesn’t seem likely, especially after Trump canceled a meeting at Camp David back in September. Yet, the fact that Trump took a stand just as the Taliban had claimed credit for an attack shows that he’s aiming to force an agreement at some point.

Another important factor lost in the discussion about the Taliban is that the Trump administration is in the process of reducing the number of American troops in Afghanistan from about 13,000 to 8,600 without compromising our effectiveness.

Last week, the president remarked that, when it comes to the Taliban, “We’ve hit them very, very hard. And they’re down to literally hundreds as opposed to thousands. They had many thousands a short while ago, and now they’re down to hundreds. Probably 200 left. And we’re scouting them out. So we’ll be down to very little, if anything, in a very short period of time.”

That’s probably Trumpian hyperbole, but his move is important considering that we don’t seem to have an end strategy in the region, and most Americans want a way to bring our nearly 20-year presence there to an end.

While some Trump foes claim he’s undermining decades of American foreign policy and embracing isolationism, The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the administration is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East in order to thwart Iran’s immediate and long-term objectives. Clearly, the president’s unconventional policy decisions are made with an eye toward countering the real threats we continue to face.

Again, the point here is this president is engaged and is approaching these seemingly intractable matters in new ways. This in itself has been very upsetting to policy-wonks and politicians who are content with the status quo. As for the Democrat-controlled Congress, if they think these wars are a good thing for the country, perhaps they might do their constitutional duty and go on the record by supporting them.

Of course, they won’t. It’s much easier to lob rhetorical grenades at the president than actually get involved in decision-making. Then again, the Democrats simply might not have time to roll up their sleeves and get in the trenches with the president. They’re too busy trying to overturn the 2016 election.

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