In the New York Times October 18, 2020 Sunday Review op-ed, “The Foreign Policy That Wasn’t,” Serge Schmemann writes:
“‘From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first,’ Mr. Trump warned in his Inaugural Address. Today, what that meant is clear in the decline of American leadership and the hallowed American brand, in the wariness of allies and the glee of strongmen.”
Since WWII there had been a remarkable consistency in our foreign policy. In 1948, the Republican leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Arthur Vandenberg, sought a bipartisan U.S. response to post-WWII security across the globe. Accordingly, he proposed and won overwhelming approval for the Vandenburg Resolution, which authorized the U.S. to pursue “development of regional and other collective arrangements for individual and collective self-defense” in accordance with the charter of the United Nations. It helped lead to the creation of NATO in 1949. Vandenburg’s famous line at the time, “We must stop politics at the water’s edge” was the unwritten rule honored, more or less, by Democrats and Republicans for decades. So, continuity in our major agreements or treaties across different administrations of opposing parties became a hallmark of our global foreign policy protocols… until President Trump came along.
In fact, presidents from Truman through George H.W. Bush pursued enduring Cold War (1945–1991) policy objectives without major strategic revisions. Different presidents might have used different tactics but until the Soviet Union collapsed, they all were in sync on the policy objectives. The same can be said of several other major foreign policy objectives — that extended across multiple presidential administrations — such as, engagement with China, isolation of Cuba, a two-state solution for Middle East peace, elimination of jihadist terrorist organizations that threaten U.S. interests worldwide, nuclear non-proliferation treaties with Russia, trade agreements with major nations and trading blocs, etc.
Trump is the first president since WWII to upset the apple cart of this continuity in U.S. foreign policy, which he had alluded to as a candidate. However, he has not only failed to deliver better outcomes, but also made global situations worse. His partisan and transactional approach to foreign policy has been an unmitigated disaster. Trump’s “love letter” diplomacy with Kim Jong-Un of North Korea blew up in his face as was evidenced by — what Mr. Schmemann described as — “a liquid-fueled monster of an intercontinental ballistic missile rolled out on an 11-axle transporter at a military parade.”
Robert B. Zoellick, Deputy Secretary of State (2005–06) and President of the World Bank (2007–12), wrote an op-ed dated October 7, 2020 in the Washington Post, “Trump is losing his new ‘Cold War’ with China.” It began with the stark declaration, “President Trump’s China policy, which always prized posturing over success, has been a total failure.” The article is a humdinger and is required reading for China hawks. Suffice it to say, Trump’s trade war with China is a classic example of bluster that bombed miserably — they played hardball and Trump was forced to bail out U.S. farmers to the tune of $30 billion.
The litany of Trump’s other foreign policy failures include: the failed coup attempt with Venezuela; showy transactional Israeli-Arab peace deals with minor Middle East nations; the withdrawal from the TPP, the Paris Accords, and the JCPOA with Iran. These are all examples of Trump’s “shoot from the hip” style. All of these failures have been compounded by Trump’s astonishing disloyalty to the long-standing post-WWII western alliance. He has publicly insulted the leaders of some of our top NATO allies throughout his presidency. More significantly, Trump refused to condemn Russia over the recent poisoning of opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, while other major NATO members were united in their denunciation. And, despite reservations in the national security establishment, Trump has been willing to sell some of our most sophisticated military equipment to some countries simply because they are able to put up the money.
Republican senator, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, delivered the coup de grâce on Trump’s foreign policy failings in a recent call with his constituents, when he said:
“So, the way he kisses dictators’ butts. I mean, the way he ignores that the Uighurs are in literal concentration camps in Xinjiang right now. He hasn’t lifted a finger on behalf of the Hong Kongers. I mean, he and I have a very different foreign policy. It isn’t just that he fails to lead our allies, is that the United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership.”
Finally, one of Trump’s most egregious actions on the world stage — albeit, not exactly in the foreign policy domain — has been his decision to pull the U.S. out of the World Health Organization in the midst of the worst global pandemic in a century. The U.S. is the highest assessed contributor to the WHO providing 22% of its funding. This decision has been criticized by many healthcare professionals, including the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, Dr. Ashish Jha, who said, “I think it’s an extraordinarily bad decision that will both harm global public health and harm the health of the American people.”
Trump’s foreign policy has indeed been a tragedy of errors. The next president — assuming that Trump is not reelected to a second term — has a whole lot of cleaning up to do. Our reputation on the world stage has been shattered. Even our NATO allies have suggested that they cannot depend on us anymore. Across the globe, Pew Research polls show that our image has taken a dive, except in a handful of countries. In a short period of four years, Trump’s “America First” looks more like “America Worst” — in the eyes of a majority of nations. It’s quite sad and disheartening for a nation of immigrants — that used to be a beacon of hope and opportunity to people from all over the world — to become so reviled. Let’s pray that a Biden presidency is able to resurrect our nation, renew its foreign policy, rebuild our international reputation and restore our global image. Let’s get back to being “America the Beautiful… from sea to shining sea.” Even the good Lord wanted it that way!