President Trump pulled the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but he has no apparent substitute for containing Iran’s aggression. We are isolated from our European allies. Trump says he wants to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but NAFTA 2.0 is not ratified (nor is it likely to be), and in any event, it isn’t dramatically different from the original. We’re out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership but not out of a trade war with China (although tariffs are not rising quite yet).
Trump met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, declared the nuclear threat gone and wants to meet again. North Korea, however, has not shown it is prepared to denuclearize. Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris accord; the other world leaders are meeting in Poland to discuss steps forward without the United States. Meanwhile, the climate change problem becomes more urgent with each passing year, according to the administration’s own report.
Our European and North American allies scorn and distrust Trump, revile his pullout from international agreements and his erratic trade threats, and rightly see him as unable to lead the West in an existential battle against illiberal regimes.
Russia remains in Ukraine and now is making a play for control of the Sea of Azov. Iran and Russia dominate Syria. The war in Afghanistan drags on without clear purpose.
Let’s be blunt: The only significant foreign policy “achievements” Trump can claim are eviscerating our reputation as a reliable ally that defends human rights and giving autocrats the impression that they can get away with murder (and dismemberment and more) without paying any significant price.
This is an administration that can claim not a single substantial foreign policy achievement. We are arguably less influential and more isolated than we were when Trump took office. (The irony is that we presently mourn the death of President George H.W. Bush, who masterminded the transition from the Cold War, the reunification of Germany, the ouster of Panamanian thug Manuel Antonio Noriega and the construction of a broad coalition that achieved victory in a Middle East war without getting bogged down in a long-term occupation.)
His [Buenos Aires] performance — coupled with his listless two-day visit to Paris days after the midterms, during which he skipped a visit to an American cemetery and appeared isolated from other world leaders — has created the impression of a president scaling back his ambitions on the world stage amid mounting political crises.
“The problem at the moment is he has no agenda,” said Thomas Wright, a Europe expert at the Brookings Institution. “He ticked through his bucket list of everything he wanted to do and declared victory on all fronts. What does he do now? They’ve not really thought it through.”
This is what comes from nationalistic know-nothingism, from deploring the very institutions and relationships that have kept us from world war and spread prosperity since the end of the WWII. It’s what flows from a foreign policy that amounts to a series of discrete gestures to please his base (move the embassy to Jerusalem, get out of the JCPOA and Paris accord) but lacks an answer to the question that follows each of these moves: What next?
Trump doesn’t know or care. A vision of American leadership? A road map to combat threats from illiberal regimes? Please. All Trump has ever wanted is a red carpet and praise. And even the latter is in short supply these days outside Saudi Arabia and Israel.