President Trump swore into office six months ago, and his foreign policy has been interesting to watch, since he:
- Started with solid Secretarys of State and Defense
- Didn’t have an immediate 9/11 event to respond to
- Has had a chance to travel and negotiate high level deals
The past six months have shown he has a fairly regular negotiating style:
- He walks into every deal saying “I’m going to change this deal”
- He makes an initial offer
- He changes the deal in some way, although it might be more symbolic than actual
So how has he done so far?
Trump started negotiating with NATO countries to increase their defense budgets. This is nothing new, as I wrote about before, almost every Defense Secretary complains about this on his way out the door. Trump simply started with that argument. His initial offer was that countries need to increase spending. He ramped it up by saying NATO was “no longer relevant,” and signaled that maybe he would move US troops out of Europe. It was a power play, given Russian aggression in Ukraine, and it worked. More countries are increasing defense spending, and Trump ramped down his rhetoric.
Trump made negotiating with China a top priority. Chinese negotiations are described as difficult, but it’s mainly because China has been slowly stacking the deck in their favor. Trump walked in like a wrecking ball: talking to Taiwan, reaffirming relations with Japan, and indicating a trade war doesn’t scare him.
Most people would say this was reckless, but it was just his opening argument. You can’t unstack a deck against you by moving single cards. Trump simply flipped the table and started over. He also called a bluff that the US needs Chinese goods. In reality, China needs the US as an export place, and a trade war (or a blockade enforced by the US Navy) is the one thing that scares the Chinese government the most.
I would count China overall as a win, except that I haven’t seen much movement to stop Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. China is ramping up efforts there, and is going to be in a position to enforce it’s version of maritime law there without regard to UNCLOS.
Trump broke the cycle of negotiations on North Korea, willingly applying pressure and trying to hold China to solve the problem. But barring stronger words, we haven’t seen much else. I think Trump needs a more visible win: shooting down a North Korean missile, or enforcing a blockade on the country would be far better.
Trump allowed Secretary Mattis to run the Iraq war, and his policy of annihilation is working quite well. Given Mattis’ good relationship with Tillerson, we probably have the best hope now for a lasting peace in Iraq.
Trump’s renegotiation of Middle East policy is a mixed bag. His stance on Iran is hampered by Obama’s deal, and it makes working with the other Arab states more difficult. His Syria policy makes sense. working with Russia keeps us out of a full-on war in Syria while we slowly rolling back bad policies (like arming fighters we know nothing about). Renegotiating deals on air bases is a big plus, since Trump would like to spend more on the military, but the money has to come from somewhere, and we pick up an outrageous bill while operating bases in the Middle East.
We’re probably not getting a border wall, but we might get a better NAFTA deal. Still too early to see what will happen, but I’d rather have more trade with Mexico and Canada then with China. I wish we would do more with South America besides hunt drug runners, but a reversal on Cuba until we get a better deal is a good thing.
My biggest criticism for foreign policy is Africa. Besides blowing up terrorists, we don’t have much of a policy here. Previous Presidents didn’t have much either. I think this is the biggest mistake we’re making now is not investing in young African democracies and helping to build a larger trade network with them. China sure is, and even North Korea is getting in on the game. Investment in Africa is cheap, and most governments there are friendly to the US. We’re missing opportunities.
I think President Trump is doing well on foreign policy. He’s had some big wins with Europe and China, plus a nice reversal in the Iraq war. He’s hit and miss on a lot of places, which only time can tell what will happen. In terms of Africa and South America, I think he, like many others, is missing an opportunity for easy wins, but perhaps we’ll see that change over the next six months.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. I’m literally just throwing my opinion out there, take it or leave it.
Please check out my blog and donate to Da Tip jar!