Trump’s foreign policy: Is unpredictability paying off?
“Fortune favors the bold,” said WashingtonTimes.com in an editorial, and with President Trump in the Oval Office, that’s good news for U.S. foreign policy. Now that he’s settled into his job, and freed himself from the coterie of cautious advisers who initially tried to curb his natural instincts, the president’s “rough talk and firm resolve” are bearing fruit in a big way on the world stage. His critics in the media and foreign policy establishment had fainting spells when Trump warned North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that the U.S. would not tolerate his nuclear threats. Trump, they cried, will get us in “a shooting war.” Now a strikingly less aggressive Kim has made a date—June 12—to talk peace with Trump in Singapore. Unlike President Obama, Trump does not believe his job is to stoically manage our decline in “a post-American world,” said Walter Russell Mead in The Wall Street Journal. Instead, he is aggressively asserting U.S. interests—announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran and finally moving our embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The message to our allies and enemies around the world could not be clearer. Trump firmly believes in “the assertion of American power.”
Our adversaries may not be so easily cowed, said Margaret Hartmann in NYMag.com. This week North Korea “started acting like North Korea again,” threatening to cancel the summit and warning that if the Trump administration continues to publicly demand “our unilateral nuclear abandonment,” all peace talks are off. Kim knows that Trump “is desperate for a deal” that would validate his claim to be a great president, said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. That gives him leverage now and in Singapore—where he will likely refuse to give up his nuclear weapons all at once, insist that the U.S. draw down forces in South Korea, and ask for economic rewards for each step of a long process of surrendering weapons. Trump may well give him what he wants.
Don’t be so sure, said David Brooks in The New York Times. Trump learned his bargaining skills in the shark tank of New York real estate and Atlantic City casinos, where his dealings with mobsters, bullying lawyers, and cutthroat businessmen gave him an instinctive feel for the “thug mind.” He may be better equipped to deal with Kim and the belligerent Iranian regime than “people who attended our prestigious Foreign Service academies.” What Trump understands, said Jim Talent in NationalReview.com, is that “sometimes for diplomacy to be effective, it has to be pursued in a way that makes diplomats uncomfortable.” Fear has its purposes.
It’s true that “unpredictability can be a useful tool of statecraft,” said Daniel Levy in ForeignPolicy.com. “But deploying it requires a carefully constructed premeditated strategy,” and no one seriously thinks Trump has one of those—either for getting past North Korea’s inevitable evasions or for how to respond if Iran resumes uranium enrichment. For all his supposed new assertiveness, Trump is actually “following, not leading” on the world stage. His pivot to diplomacy with North Korea followed South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s lead, while Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal and the embassy move to Jerusalem both came straight off the wish list of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump’s only consistent strategy, said Daniel Drezner in WashingtonPost.com, is to “win every news cycle,” regardless of the consequences. But anticipating and engineering long-term consequences are what foreign policy is all about. Unfortunately, this unpredictable, impulsive president “does not think in those terms.” ■