I recall – somewhere back in the hazy days of my youth – having read an article about American foreign policy and the lament by a diplomat from another part of the world pointing to the difficulty of long term diplomacy with the United States given the shifting sands of our foreign policy due to changes in administrations over the course of time. For some reason that comment always stuck with me and I think it led to my own particular interest in watching how well each of the presidents in my lifetime have managed to tack gracefully and correct course gently but firmly as their administrations navigated our relationships around the world.
What we have now is a President* Trump foreign policy which reflects the man: it reeks of verbal diarrhea and offers the capriciousness and haphazardness of a two year old. It is now the human equivalent of a spouting fountain with streams headed in all directions. Forget foreign policy changes that reflect the careful choreography of moving from a democratic-led foreign policy to a republican-led foreign policy: our new approach to foreign policy means changes that can occur within mere days of previous policy statements. A previous Trump declaration about the continued sustainability of the decades-long ‘One China’ Policy? Haha, just kidding: now we’re back on board with the One China policy! Previous disparagement of the Obama administration’s objections to Israeli settlements as an impediment to peace in the region? Fooled ya’! Yeah Netanyahu, you gotta’ knock that off!
Back in the day I also read commentary about how U.S. Presidents will typically focus on foreign affairs over domestic affairs as they often find that the realm of shaping foreign policy is where they can have the most impact. Here’s the rub with the current administration: in his heart of hearts President* Trump has little or no interest in foreign affairs and America’s place in the world as a guardian of human rights and our position in the vanguard helping shape the world in which we all live. When you look at the Trump Doctrine – such as it is – as it relates to the world around us you find a man who would be quite happy to spend his days looking inward and ignoring the world around us except as it relates to bashing other countries over the head with a tariff mallet. His default on anything related to the Middle East is to spew the acronym ISIS in all directions. The Muslim Ban is a blunt force bungled attempt to start us on a path that permanently divides the United States from the nearly two billion Muslims who share our planet. The wall – a Great Wall, to use typical Trump hyperbole – he intends to build along our nearly 2,000 mile border with Mexico is further sad evidence of a man who sees anyone not an American as a threat to life and property. His bashing of the United Nations and NATO are just two more overt examples of Trump’s entrenched distrust of any flag that isn’t the red, white, and blue of our own.
Trump sees his election as a mandate to turn the United States away from the world around us and to focus the full force of his days in office to ‘making America great again’. To a President* Trump that means a thriving, robust economy unfettered by government regulations designed to protect us from unscrupulous members of the financial industry or to protect our planet from industrial waste or the effect of global warming. Were it only possible to stop there. Sadly, it doesn’t: Trump has thrown in with a crowd of GOP conservatives who are intent on rolling back civil liberties and personal freedoms that have been previously hard fought and won.
As much as it dismays to think of how our country is saddled with a Rex Tillerson to head up the State Department, I’m afraid I have to agree with one democrat in the Senate who said his vote for Tillerson was less about Tillerson and more about extracting Trump from being hands on in the daily process of managing our foreign affairs. On the other hand, even five more Rex Tillersons will be five too few when it comes to putting out the fires caused by Trump’s daily propensity for spewing his venom in all directions absent a fully-formed rational adult philosophy about conducting foreign policy with lucidity and logic.
The President’s recent sharp U-turns in his foreign policy haven’t as yet caused permanent damage. Sadly, however, with less than a month on the job, it’s not too early to start that office pool on when the next Trump verbal misfire on foreign policy will do irreparable harm to our place in the world or worse: starts getting people killed en masse.