Now that the bombastic billionaire Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, it’s time to critically analyze the impact of a Trump administration on American foreign policy. Trump has routinely invoked nationalistic and isolationist rhetoric to “Make America Great Again” and deliver it from the era of interventionist administrations. Because according to Trump, “[l]ogic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, which led to one foreign policy disaster after another.” But Trump’s own ego-driven policies cause many foreign policy experts to scratch their heads in bemusement, frustration and concern as many contradictions exist in the billionaire’s platform.
Instead of promoting American leadership and making it great again, Trump’s belief that he will somehow be able to speak without regard to political correctness and conduct diplomacy abroad will not work. In fact, it is already hurting America’s standing abroad. El Chapo Guzman’s lawyers having used Trump’s rhetoric against Mexicans to attempt to nullify American extradition efforts against the notorious Mexican drug kingpin. Iranian parliamentary opposition leaders have pointed to Trump’s (and other candidates’) war mongering and derogatory comments about Muslims as a rationale for claiming that American negotiators are disingenuous and that the nuclear agreement framework should be abandoned. And most shockingly, the Parliament of America’s long time close ally, Great Britain, has held a debate and vote on whether or not to ban Trump from entering the country. Yet, these ramifications are seemingly lost on Trump’s supporters who are most concerned with purging the establishment from power, no matter the cost.
For these supporters Trump’s brand of nationalism represents, perhaps, a return to a simpler more prosperous America. An America that views the world in starkly good and evil paradigms, confident in its path and purpose. Last week, Trump outlined a new direction for American foreign policy, in what could likely be considered his most serious political statements thus far in his campaign. Starting out by declaring his desire to “replace randomness with purpose, ideology with strategy, and chaos with peace,” Trump soundly slapped critics and the establishment back a step with a call to “invite new voices and new vision into the fold” of American foreign policy. And that played well with the anti-globalization demographic of the electorate which views Chinese economic growth as a threat to American national security and even national identity. Looking at Trump’s speech, one can see echoes of that notion when he invokes the shaking off the rust of American foreign policy, a clear allusion to the revitalization of the Rust Belt of America by repatriating “the theft of American jobs.”
Trump also laments that “our friends are beginning to think they can’t depend on us. We’ve had a president who dislikes our friends and bows to our enemies, something that we’ve never seen before in the history of our country.” It’s hard to imagine that Trump can’t detect the irony in this statement given his criticism of NATO allies for not paying their “fair share.” He also says that “[t]he countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense, and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice.” This is his suggested policy despite the fact that these NATO allies have been on the front lines of fending off Russian expansionism under Putin and would be more vulnerable if left to their own defenses. Even more confusing is that Trump has previously praised Russian leader and strongman Vladimir Putin as a “getting an A” for leadership, and a man he’d “get along very well with” as President. And of course, it’s because Putin would respect Trump more than Obama. Come again?
Trump’s speech is rife with such contradictions. Take for example his desire to become more reliable to our allies, but also to “be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything. We’re sending troops. We tell them. We’re sending something else. We have a news conference. We have to be unpredictable. And we have to be unpredictable starting now.”
Another example is his statement that “[t]he world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends and when old friends become allies, that’s what we want. We want them to be our allies.” Though Trump has criticized President Obama’s efforts to negotiate and normalize with Cuba and accused him of having “treated Iran with tender love and care and made it a great power.”
And of course this foreign policy approach is predicated on a Trump administration that “will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else. It has to be first. Has to be.” Of course all of this will work beautifully without hiccup because well, he’s Trump. Just trust him.
The host of foreign policy initiatives and relationships a Trump administration could irrevocably damage with this type of contradictory governance is immense, though surely not as large as the candidate’s sizeable ego. American foreign policy has been fraught with perilous and questionable decision making (ABC politics anyone? It was basically the incubator for al Qaeda’s rise), but hindsight is 20/20 and Trump’s Monday morning quarterbacking won’t help him when the time comes for dealing with these crises head on. Nor will his reputation as a reality TV show star and real estate mogul who can negotiate his ass off. Americans must hope that in the near future, if Mr. Trump is to become President Trump, he will moderate his stances to the norm based on the pressures of realpolitik and the demands of the Oval Office.
Because if Trumpian rhetoric becomes Trumpian policy, it’s highly unlikely that America will gain back its supposed lost respect, let alone its greatness. Hubris won’t be done away with. It will simply be replaced. And the cause of that? It won’t be the establishment or the Washington insider’s failed policies and overseas initiatives, but Trump’s ego-driven hubris that only he can solve America’s problems singlehandedly.
Picture by Michael Vadon – Donald Trump Sr. at #FITN in Nashua, NH, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46704664