What Does American Foreign Policy Look Like in a Post-Trump World?
What Trump changed, how he changed it, and what might need to happen going forward
It’s a monstrosity to navigate the web of Donald Trump’s foreign affairs through the years. His presidency began with Russian interference in the elections and his “little conflict of interest in Turkey”. That little conflict of interest was followed up with a typical Trumpism, clarifying that he had “two towers, instead of one. Not the usual one. It’s two.”
The backdrop of a Trump presidency has forecasted a weird trajectory moving forward. From disregarding the intelligence experts by his side, to ignoring policy advisors with magnitudes of experience, to exchanging deals under the table with Ukraine’s president or firing attorney generals for investigating his friends abroad, like Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for massive multi-billion dollar bank fraud.
Trump’s mishandling — or handling — or the covid crisis has been the major punctuation in a long list of failings. With nearly 250,000 Americans now dead to this pandemic, the view of America abroad has plummeted. In most cases, ratings from allies have hit record lows.
What happened with the swamp analogy?
Trump started on the heels of “draining the swamp”. However, according to almost any expert in his cabinet, he’s done the exact opposite. Today the swamp is filthier than it’s ever been, and Trump has been the nucleus for that change.
One particular example was with the ousting of Geoffrey S. Berman, the attorney general investigating Halkbank, a state-owned Turkish bank that was funneling billions of dollars to Iran, violating U.S. sanctions. Erdogan, Turkey’s leader, pressed Trump to end the investigation. Previously, Erdogan tried to rally Vice President Biden to throw the case away, to which Biden responded that it would be “grounds for impeachment”. Trump’s theatrics on America’s stage day-in-day-out has tumbled on an information bottleneck these days. Berman’s firing, a directive from Trump himself, is a gesture that financial gain from criminal leaders abroad is an acceptable gesture in return for political favors. If there was a bribery-squared, this would be just that.
James Mattis’ departure from the white house had similar overtones. For one, it was an awkward thing for a Secretary of Defense to simply step down, especially one as decorated as Mattis. But that exit became clearer, especially as Mattis described Trump as “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us.” Mattis saw his presence in the white house as moot — and this was most illustrious when Trump went against advisement and moved troops out of Syria, abandoning the Kurds as bait for Erdogan.
When Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, ordered the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, Trump’s response to Salman’s involvement was “Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t”. He later went on to tell Bob Woodward that he “saved his ass”.
The foreign policy objective has devolved into a strange set of principles; one which has no true objective at all except to explore what Trump calls “friendships”.
Passive with the needy, needy with the powerful.
When Ukraine needed economic assistance, assistance that is given to them without the need for the president to authorize it, Trump saw that as an opportunity to twist arms. John Bolton confirmed in his book, The Room Where it Happened, that Trump was attempting to extort the Ukrainian president by withholding aid. The facts, however, proved not to matter, as the Senate didn’t choose to have Bolton testify and instead voted to exonerate Trump. Every Republican Senator voted to lift Trump of any guilt, except for Mitt Romney.
Legality isn’t only bendable, but it is a thin piece of tape in the Trump world. Where countries and people need assistance, like the Kurds in Syria or even Americans at home, Trump is steadfast to deny liability and reject professional opinions or scientific facts.
The descriptions of dictators like Kim Jong Un, Vladmir Putin, or Xi Jinping are nothing but exciting and filled with promise. Trump has asked Putin to be his “best friend” at a pageant show, said that he “fell in love” with Kim Jong Un, and that Un would “write me beautiful letters”. According to John Bolton, Trump was always willing to hand favors to dictators, going so far as to ask Chinese President Xi Jinping to help him win re-election.
The rest of the world sees the threat of America cozying up to criminals abroad; in fact, it’s likely that America’s integrity has taken a major hit with allied leaders as a direct result.
Learning from Trump.
Trump’s readiness to meet with Kim Jong Un three times was a foreign policy achievement nobody thought would happen. Most experts on both sides of the political aisle were astonished by the feat. What Barack Obama thought was the biggest threat to the United States going forward, Trump ended up humanizing and opening dialogue.
Violent crime has fallen, despite the constant media about crime being rampant or intentional or on the rise. In fact, in 2018, there were 369 instances per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018 whereas there were 404.5 instances in 2010. Regardless of the portrayal of Trump’s intentional evil, the data reflects a rather peaceful time.
Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, legalizing CBD and hemp. The irony in that is quite severe, as the delay of federal legalization of marijuana is only continuing to allow the black market to thrive; some estimates value the illicit market for cannabis anywhere from $60 billion to $100 billion. There has never been an easier target for federal tax revenue and economic growth, and studies have confirmed that legalization could easily result in a million new jobs.
Trump’s appeal to the American people didn’t occur in a vacuum. In 2006, Stephen Colbert’s invention of a word was most succinct in foreshadowing what was to happen:
“Truthiness is tearing apart our country, and I don’t mean the argument over who came up with the word …
It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It’s certainty. People love the President [George W. Bush] because he’s certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don’t seem to exist. It’s the fact that he’s certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true? …
Truthiness is ‘What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true.’ It’s not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There’s not only an emotional quality, but there’s a selfish quality.”
Abandoning the truth for truthiness was not the exchange that took place, however. In Trump’s last debate with Joe Biden, he struck a pretty important chord, one that can’t be rebutted without admitting defeat: Joe Biden has been a lifelong politician whose presence in politics has not brought forth much of what he had originally promised. Decades of being a politician, much like Hillary Clinton, only serve to dampen the confidence of the American people for a Democratic or a Republican president to do the job. In the case of Democratic candidates, the American people were fed up with candidates that sit on the platforms of justice only to superlatively abuse it.
In that regard, Trump was new, fresh, an outsider, and loud. For all those reasons, truthiness won in the 2016 election. And while it rode on a wave for a time, it seems as though most of America understands Trump’s cumulative presidency netted everybody, except for the richest, far less than what they started with.
In many aspects, the experience of holding office prior is something you’d definitely want and need in a candidate: whether it is being in charge of 4,000 active nuclear warheads, preserving America’s image abroad, or maintaining strong economic prospects at home.