I was late on the bandwagon to denounce President Trump. While I did not vote for Trump, after he was elected I did feel he deserved a fair shot at the presidency, and held out hope that he would soon start “acting more presidential,” and perhaps even make good on his promise to surround himself with “the best people” to help guide policy making. These people I hoped, would reign in his more outlandish claims and steer him in the right direction. I understand that the right direction is subjective, but punishing for women for having abortions, implementing a Muslim ban, and building a wall, to the vast majority of reasonable people, are “wrong direction” ideas. I also believed that if all else failed the damage he could inflict would be mitigated by our system of checks and balances, and that our institutions would save us. As the past few weeks have unfolded, I found myself at first disappointed, then perplexed, astounded, and now, deeply disturbed.
I think it hit me when I was asked this question; if there were some national security emergency or foreign aggression, would I feel confident, or even comfortable, with how the Trump administration might the situation. The answer? Hell no.
I really dislike bandwagons, which is perhaps part of the reason I withheld judgment on Trump for so long. But its time for judgement. While no one expects complete theoretical coherence from any administration pertaining to foreign policy, no one expects complete incoherence either. Joe Finer, fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics and former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State John Kerry, writes:
“In almost any other administration, much of the work of establishing basic foreign policy views would have been done already—not in the first month in office, but long before that, through working groups of policy experts convened by the campaign. The Trump campaign didn’t bother with that, either because they didn’t think it would help them win (which is probably true) or because they assumed that in the unlikely event of a victory they would quickly catch up (which was false).”
In the past four weeks, Iran has been “put on notice,” the one-China policy, which has been in place for over 40 years has been called into question, as has the NATO alliance, which Trump famously referred to as “obsolete”. Meanwhile, a Russian spy ship was detected 30 miles of the coast of Connecticut. The national security advisor has resigned, the story of which is still unfolding.The non-policy pertaining to the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been summed up by President Trump as this; “I’m looking at one state and two state and I like the one that both parties like.” Meanwhile, Trump has nominated David Friedman, who Politico referred to as “a pro-settlement activist who has referred to left-leaning Jews as “worse than Kapos,” a.k.a. the Jews who aided the Nazis during the Holocaust, because they urge Israel to make concessions for peace,” as the ambassador to Israel. Trumps son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a man with zero experience in policy or foreign relations, has been tasked with brokering peace in the Middle East. It has also been reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been left out of the loop on key decisions, such as the raid in Yemen, and the travel ban, which undoubtedly have significant impact on foreign relations. Rumors are abound that no one wants to touch the position of national security advisor, due to both a lack of control over their own staff, and a strange power sharing arrangement with Trumps “Strategic Initiative Group,” a White House policy think tank which consists of his “inner circle” of Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.
A former member of the Obama Administration tells Kimberly Dozier of The Daily Beast:
“To put it bluntly, this is truly crazy… Being a racist and misogynistic political adviser is one thing, but when that person controls domestic and national-security policy, it’s time to break glass because of emergency. I shudder to think what is next, once Bannon’s operation is fully staffed up.”
American’s are not alone in our concern over the incoherent foreign policy of the Trump administration; it was the focus of the Munich Security Conference this past weekend, which was attended by both Vice President Pence and Defense Secretary Mattis. Robin Wright’s piece in the New Yorker provides an expert from the preparatory report:
“The preparatory report—written by an international team as the official “conversation starter”—uses stark language about the new American President. “The worries are that Trump will embark on a foreign policy based on superficial quick wins, zero-sum games, and mostly bilateral transactions—and that he may ignore the value of international order building, steady alliances, and strategic thinking,” it says. “Or, maybe worse, that he sees foreign and security policy as a game to be used whenever he needs distractions for domestic political purposes.” The report, “Post-Truth, Post-West, Post-Order?” adds candidly, “What is uncertain is how Trump’s core beliefs will translate into policy (and whether policies will be coherent).”
Many were concerned during Trump’s presidential campaign that he would retreat into isolationism, but that’s not quite what we’re seeing unfold. As Joe Finer, fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics and former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State John Kerry points out:
“All this suggests that the handwringing during the campaign about the potential for Trump to squander America’s global position by deliberately shifting the country toward a posture of isolation was misplaced. What is emerging is something else entirely; an abdication of our leadership by default.”
Why is this so dangerous? Two reasons, which James Kitfield for Politico succinctly explains:
“Trump revels in his unpredictability, but it’s a very costly and risky way for a great power to pursue national objectives, Schake says, because friends can’t synchronize their actions to support you, and adversaries don’t know where the boundaries of acceptable behavior lie.”