It won’t be. Which is a bit of a problem in the punditry game.
I have done a fair amount of media over the past year on Trump’s foreign policy, and I am noticing a consistent pattern: It is becoming harder and harder to find someone willing to go on non-Fox News outlets and make a reasoned case for what this administration is doing on trade, NATO, family separation or Russia. The segments I appear on turn into spasms of agreement about how everything this administration touches turns to ash.
The trouble with these segments is that Americans are hard-wired to believe that in politics or foreign policy, there are always multiple points of view. And during normal times, that is absolutely true. Even in 2018, there might be times when a wonk could make a good-faith case for some of the Trump administration’s policy initiatives.
No one expects a “both sides” debate on some issues, however. There is no political debate to be had over whether two plus two equals four. With Trump’s foreign policy moves, his follow-through is so ham-handed that even sympathetic allies cannot defend him:
So let’s just stipulate that Trump embarrassed the United States with his Helsinki performance, that it was the foreign policy equivalent of Charlottesville. Let’s further stipulate that his national security team abjectly failed to constrain him. And let’s note that everything I said in this space yesterday is even more trenchant now.
Here’s the bigger question: What does this mean going forward?
I am afraid the answer is that it’s the worst of both worlds. U.S. policy toward Russia will not change all that much. But the past week has convinced our NATO allies in Europe that the United States can no longer be trusted.
On the former, if you ignore the rhetoric and just look at the policies, the administration has been pretty hawkish toward Russia. As Michael Brendan Dougherty notes in National Review, this is the fundamental paradox of this administration:
Again, just as with North Korea, the conciliatory rhetoric from Trump will be belied by the operations of the executive branch, the positioning of the U.S. military, and our nation’s intelligence agencies. Trump’s gifts tend to be little more than rhetorical. Trump did not lift the sanctions on North Korea. Trump has not pulled the U.S. out of NATO. He has not lifted Russian sanctions. In fact, it was Putin today who advertised the adamantine American line on Crimea, saying that Trump’s position is clear; the Russian annexation was a crime.The result of this news conference is the further deranging of American political life. By openly repudiating the conclusions of his own nation’s security institutions about Russia’s interference operations while on a stage with Russia’s president, Trump has widened a fissure at the center of American government.
Of course, it is impossible for allied governments to ignore Trump’s rhetoric. Nor should they. Trump defenders cannot simultaneously say that observers should not pay attention to the president’s rhetoric and tweets but then extol the president for following through on the things he said and tweeted about during the campaign. Words either matter or they don’t.
Unsurprisingly, after the past week, Germany’s foreign minister says that his country must rethink its foreign policy outlook.
Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday Europe could not rely on Donald Trump and needed to close ranks after the U.S. president called the European Union a “foe” with regard to trade.“We can no longer completely rely on the White House,” Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group. “To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it. The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe.”He added: “Europe must not let itself be divided however sharp the verbal attacks and absurd the tweets may be.”
Tomorrow, the president will not be surrendering the White House to the Kremlin. Most policies will not change. But the foreign policy aphasia at the heart of this administration will persist. There will be no upside to it, and the downsides will be tremendous.
That is the biggest problem.