Trump's foreign policy record (USA Today)

The News Journal has been running USA Today essays on major campaign issues; this is the third in a series that began with Climate change, 9/25/20, and Healthcare, 10/8/20.

Start with snark. With a coronavirus pandemic that “has claimed hundreds of thousands of American lives,” why should voters worry about foreign policy that might potentially lead to a far greater disaster? But just in case, “here’s a quick overview (spoiler alert: it’s not a whole lot better than how he handles a disease outbreak).”

Quickly dispel any hopes for a favorable review by stating that “with a few exceptions,” Trump’s foreign policy record “has been littered with one-dimensional thinking and self-aggrandizing showmanship.”

Provide an explanation for failure: Like other inherited policies, “the president likes to smash things he gets his hand on, with or without an alternative.”

Lead with alleged negatives, not arguable positives. Thus, the president scrapped the Paris Climate Accord, the Iranian Nuclear Deal, and US membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He even withdrew us from the World Health Organization [actually just reduced our payment?] while “the plague was raging.” And he bruised US relationships with traditional allies, while currying favor with autocrats in China, Russia and Turkey.

In the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to end the US trade deficit with China by, among other things, confronting Beijing about the theft of intellectual profit, forced technology transfers, and export subsidies. But Americans paid the tariffs Trump imposed, not China, and Chinese retaliatory tariffs bankrupted thousands of US farms. When the two countries signed a deal in January 2020, “it was little more than a Beijing IOU to buy more American goods.”

North Korea may have suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests, but they are still building nuclear bombs and recently displayed what purportedly was its newest and largest ICBM. So much for the vague agreement about denuclearizing the Korean peninsula that was signed and the “beautiful letters” the two heads of state have exchanged.

“Even where Trump has had solid successes, there have been asterisks.”

#Brokering of agreements between 3 Arab states and Israel was a good thing, but it fell far short of “the ultimate deal” of a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.

#Trump has blown hot and cold about pulling US troops out of Afghanistan, and the latest word is the troops will not be home by Christmas.

#ISIS was defeated, which is good, but there are still 10,000 ISIS fighters in the area and the drawdown of the already small US military presence in Syria was questionable strategy (and a betrayal of our Kurdish allies).

#withdrawal from the Iranian Nuclear Deal hasn’t made us any safer. Allies refused to cooperate in reimposition of sanctions, and Iran is stepping up their nuclear efforts.

Can Joe Biden do better? He brings extensive foreign policy experience, including in areas (Afghanistan, China, Iraq and North Korea) “where Trump has struggled to succeed.” He has promised to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran Nuclear Deal, and to “[restore] support for NATO.” His would be “a steadier hand on the nuclear button.” He “could hardly do worse than Trump,” and with luck might do a lot better.”

Comment: Trump deserves credit for reexamining foreign policies and challenging some of them. Several of his purported failures were actually beneficial, e.g., withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord (strongly contrary to US interests and not likely to have any material effect on global temperatures) and the Iranian Nuclear Agreement (which at best slowed Iran’s progress towards becoming a nuclear power and left them free to pursue terrorist objectives throughout the Middle East). Re NATO, he has been somewhat successful in pressuring other members in the alliance to bring their defense spending up to the agreed levels

Granted that some of the problem areas Trump tackled have not been resolved, e.g., ending the war in Afghanistan after two decades, securing a peace agreement between Israel & Palestine, etc. but changes in policy often take time to bear fruit. Obama & Biden don’t even seem to have been working on these problems and they allowed the ISIS regime to blossom by a premature US withdrawal from Iraq. An abrupt swing back to the previous policies, such as Biden apparently envisions, would be disruptive.
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