Trump's Legacy: Foreign Policy Achievement
Not just cleaning up after the previous president, but expanding American success.
When President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, he had a serious foreign policy mess on his hands from eight long years of Barack Obama’s blame-America malfeasance. Trump, the Art of the Deal businessman and foreign policy novice, reversed course with a novel approach: “America First.” And boy did it pay dividends.
As Obama left office, Mark Alexander aptly summed up the lowlights of his terrible legacy:
Under his tenure we witnessed the “Russian Spring” in Crimea; his hollow “Red Line” in the Syrian sand; the Middle East meltdown in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Jordan and Gaza; his political retreat from Iraq — discarding all the blood and treasure spent there to establish stability; the Benghazi cover-up ahead of the 2012 election; the dramatic resurgence of al-Qa'ida; Obama’s reference to ISIL as the “JV team”; and the rise of the Islamic State and an epic humanitarian crisis in the Middle East.
Obama heralded his Iran nuke “deal” as one of his greatest foreign policy achievements: “I shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot.” The fact is, his acquiescence and coddling of Iran resulted in the re-emergence of the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, which is now metastasizing into Western Europe and North America.
Additionally, Obama and Kerry took a parting shot at Israel, undermining our historic relations with this essential Middle Eastern ally.
Moreover, Obama subjected our nation to the Paris Climate Agreement and flung the doors open wide for a wave of illegal immigration, both of which threatened our security and our economy.
Progress on just two or three of these problems would have been laudable, but the Trump administration — particularly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — significantly moved the needle on every one of them.
Despite Obama literally scoffing at the idea that Russia was our biggest geopolitical foe, he then accused and investigated Trump for supposedly “colluding” with the Kremlin to win in 2016. Trump has always had an unfortunate penchant for saying flattering things about thug dictators like Vladimir Putin, which made the charge believable for some. But in practice, Trump thwarted much of Putin’s plans. He fueled energy exports that undercut Russian dominance in Europe. He also gave aid to the Ukrainian military against Russian aggression — as he humorously put it in one of his debates with Joe Biden, “While he was selling pillows and sheets, I sold tank busters to Ukraine.”
Donald Trump was impeached for talking to the Ukrainian president; Joe Biden actually offered the quid pro quo.
In the Middle East, Trump redoubled U.S. efforts to defeat ISIS, and though it is not gone, it is a shell of its former self. One might even finally be justified in calling it a “JV team.” He stabilized the U.S. response in Syria and Afghanistan. His record isn’t perfect, primarily because he very much values the “deal” even if it’s with the untrustworthy Taliban and, too much like his predecessor, he often seems more interested in “ending” wars than winning them. But the Middle East is a far quieter place today than it was in 2017.
That’s largely because Trump, Pompeo, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have driven several peace agreements between Arab nations and Israel. (You know, the same Netanyahu who Obama regularly insulted and tried to defeat electorally.) This Israeli-Arab coalition is a huge hindrance to Iran’s designs on regional hegemony, and is thus an engine of peace. As it turns out, keeping the quarter-century-old American promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was a sign of alignment and backing for Israel that spoke volumes to its Arab neighbors.
It’s safe now to laugh at John Kerry’s 2016 declaration that “there will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world.” His successor, Mike Pompeo, almost certainly is.
Did we mention that, for all his Middle East work, Trump has been nominated multiple times for the Nobel Peace Prize?
Obama won it; Trump deserves it.
Joe Biden promises to rejoin both, and to generally reverse Trump’s foreign policy.
A notable mention goes to Trump’s termination of Iran’s leading terrorist, Qasem Soleimani.
To the consternation of the establishment, Trump saw NATO as another festering problem — an alliance of European deadbeats who weren’t pulling their weight but were instead mooching off the might and wealth of the United States. No more, he said. Four years later, more NATO nations are pulling their weight in terms of defense spending. Trump’s transactional view of American defense spending and responsibilities is not the traditional conservative approach, but his out-of-the-box thinking changed this status quo for the better.
In fact, that goes to a larger point: American leftists routinely grouse that we’re “less respected” in the world than when “citizen of the world” Obama was “leading from behind.” Well, the globalists might like us less, but that’s because they know we’re no longer a pushover and a sucker. Like and respect aren’t always synonymous.
On top of all of that, Trump moved to secure America’s economic interests abroad, including reworking NAFTA into the USMCA. His boasting was typically hyperbolic, but the new agreement does modernize and improve trade with our North American neighbors.
Trump’s tariffs against China were not our preferred solution, and they had the unintended consequence of higher consumer prices for Americans and necessitating bailouts for farmers due to the inevitable retaliation. But this president rightly took on China in a way that none of his predecessors did, including challenging the blind loyalty to “free” trade with China at all costs — costs that sent American jobs and wealth to China.
Importantly, the designation of greatest geopolitical threat now goes indisputably to China, which much of the world views more negatively now thanks to both the China virus and Trump’s work to destroy the ChiCom facade. That includes pulling U.S. money and credibility from the World Health Organization, which everyone now knows is a Chinese puppet.
Just a reminder: Joe Biden is in Beijing’s pocket, too.
Speaking of Chinese puppets, Trump met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in order to block the Hermit Kingdom’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The verdict is mixed: North Korea is still an unstable menace, but it’s also no longer regularly threatening U.S. ally Japan.
Trump’s failure with China is his silence in the face of its totalitarian actions to crush freedom in Hong Kong.
On immigration, Trump began building his wall (though it remains far from what he promised), and he generally made progress in a number of areas to tighten the border and the process so that the flood of illegals crossing our border slowed significantly. There is much work yet to be done, and, unfortunately, Biden will likely undo much of Trump’s progress. But that doesn’t take away from Trump’s earnest efforts to solve a problem the rest of Washington was content to treat as a campaign fundraiser.
Trump might only be a one-term president, but his achievements in foreign policy — again, due in no small measure to Pompeo — are matched by precious few. As Bruce Thornton put it, “Trump, like the ‘amiable dunce’ Ronald Reagan, understood that the establishment’s narratives were endangering our security and interests. He brought some practical wisdom, common sense about human nature, and real-world experience to foreign policy, and recalibrated it with a few simple, Reaganesque principles: We win, they lose; America’s interests are paramount; and we should always be ‘no better friend, no worse enemy,’ a foundational principle of foreign relations that Obama had turned on its head.”
Indeed, Trump challenged and changed a lot of Beltway groupthink, and the end result is that America is stronger on the world stage than it was four years ago.