It’s been a year since Donald Trump became president, and by International Fellowship of Punditry bylaws I am required to have a take. The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has many thoughts on this topic, but for today let’s focus on foreign policy. And my take is simple: President Trump has failed candidate Trump bigly.
Let’s recall what Trump said about President Barack Obama and his foreign policy back in October 2016:
Donald Trump has claimed that Barack Obama and the US are loathed around the world, driving countries such as the Philippines into the arms of its adversaries.
“The world hates our president,” Trump said Friday at a rally in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. “The world hates us. You saw what happened with the Philippines after years and years and years; they’re now looking to Russia and China, because they don’t feel good about the weak America.”
Trump’s claim that the world hated Obama was a flat-out lie, but let’s put that to one side. The excerpt shows that Trump thinks it is a bad thing if the rest of the world hates the American president. He does not want countries looking to Russia or China.
The problem is that all the data suggest that America is far closer to Trump’s description now than when Obama was president.
Back in July, Pew published survey findings showing just how far global confidence in the United States had fallen in Trump’s first few months:
Last week, Gallup published its global survey findings. They’re really bad:
One year into Donald Trump’s presidency, the image of U.S. leadership is weaker worldwide than it was under his two predecessors. Median approval of U.S. leadership across 134 countries and areas stands at a new low of 30%, according to a new Gallup report.
The most recent approval rating, based on Gallup World Poll surveys conducted between March and November last year, is down 18 percentage points from the 48% approval rating in the last year of President Barack Obama’s administration, and is four points lower than the previous low of 34% in the last year of President George W. Bush’s administration….
Regionally, the image of U.S. leadership suffered most in the Americas, where approval ratings dropped to a new low. The median of 24% who approve of U.S. leadership in the region now stands at about half of what it was in the last year of the Obama administration (49%).
Here is how that poll looks:
As a foreign policy observer, you really have to be impressed by these results. By 2008, the Bush administration had been discredited from its handling of the war on terror, Iraq and the subprime mortgage crisis. Trump has been president during a global economic upswing. Nonetheless, Trump has managed to eviscerate confidence in U.S. leadership. And bear in mind that all this polling was conducted before Trump gratuitously referred to African countries as “shitholes.”
Oh, and remember how Trump worried about countries preferring to follow China as opposed to the United States? Look at this graph:
There is some good news for fans of the liberal international order buried in that graph. Countries are not really flocking to Russia and China so much as they are turning away from the United States. A future president might be able to reverse those numbers. Still, the Trump administration has managed to be so unpopular that, at this point, more people approve of Chinese leadership (31 percent) than the United States (30 percent).
To play devil’s advocate, maybe these results are simply evidence that, as Machiavelli would put it, the United States is now feared rather than loved. Trump would very much appreciate that. Just last month he bragged that, “America is being respected again abroad.” Trump’s GOP base certainly believes this to be true.
Alas, the news headlines of just the past few days reveal how little America is respected across the world right now. Trump has to beg treaty allies for credit if anything constructive happens. His vice president, engaged in a counterproductive sojourn to the Middle East, keeps getting dressed down by allies:
In pointed public remarks, Jordan’s King Abdullah II told Vice President Pence on Sunday that he had repeatedly warned Washington about the risks of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and that he hoped the United States would now “reach out” and find the right way to move forward.
At a meeting at his palace in the Jordanian capital, Amman, Abdullah said that he had been encouraged by President Trump’s commitment to bring a solution to decades of conflict by Israelis and Palestinians — but that Jerusalem is key to achieving peace.
“I had continuously voiced over the past year, in my meetings with Washington, my concerns regarding the U.S. decision on Jerusalem that does not come as a result of a comprehensive settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” he said, addressing Pence and his delegation from across a dining table laid out for lunch. “Today we have a major challenge to overcome, especially with some of the rising frustrations.”
Pence is hardly the only U.S. official being called in by foreign governments:
The United States’ ambassador to Panama resigned. The top envoy to Pakistan was scolded by the government in Islamabad. And American diplomats across Africa have been made to explain President Trump’s vulgar description of their nations….
On Wednesday, more than 80 former ambassadors to African nations over the last several decades sent a letter of protest to Mr. Trump. They said his description undermined American interests across the continent that has the world’s fastest growing population and five of the 10 fastest growing economies. …
“I think I can speak for many of my senior colleagues when I say that, while we’ve all faced challenges, what’s different now is that the president’s rhetoric is so disrespectful that we’re losing the respect and relationships that we have spent decades building,” said Dana Shell Smith, who resigned in June as ambassador to Qatar after tweeting her disagreements with the president.
No wonder morale in the diplomatic corps has plummeted.
Turkish troops crossed the Syrian border into the Kurdish enclave of Afrin on Sunday morning, beginning a ground assault against American-allied militias there, as the first accounts of casualties emerged amid rising international criticism of Turkey’s military action….
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson spoke by telephone with his Turkish and Russian counterparts on Saturday to express concern about the situation, a State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said in a statement.
Sounds like Turkey is showing the United States a ton of respect after the secretary of state’s big Syria speech.
The Trump administration has paid a high price for trying to articulate its America First foreign policy. In return, the United States has gained … nothing. In his first year, Trump can point to no new alliances, trade deals or favorable basing agreements. Trump obsesses (wrongly) about trade deficits, but they increased with both China and Mexico in 2017. The dollar is not surging in response to a growing U.S. economy. Trump’s biggest foreign policy accomplishment is the military campaign against the Islamic State, which is basically a continuation of Obama’s 2016 strategy.
I haven’t even mentioned the government shutdown yet. But Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has:
Trump probably remembers and loves Machiavelli’s dictum from “The Prince” that “it is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” If Trump ever read a little further in the text, however, he would have noticed this warning: “a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared while he is not hated.”
The United States is losing its global standing because the world hates Donald Trump. Anyone who tells you differently is selling you something.