President Trump has made some broad, sweeping promises about foreign policy; He promised to introduce “extreme vetting” measures for immigrants, especially refugees. He's promised to “totally destroy” the Islamic State. And he responded to North Korean nuclear advances by saying the country's efforts to build a weapon “won't happen!”
North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2017
But when he's pushed on how, specifically, he aims to achieve his foreign policy goals, he's not very forthcoming.
That dynamic reared its head again at Wednesday's Rose Garden news conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan. Trump was asked about several important foreign policy areas, including the treatment of refugees, the Assad regime's apparent use of chemical weapons on Syrian citizens and the Iran nuclear deal. He promised a strong U.S. response on each of those issues — but offered little in the way of detail.
“One of the things I think you've noticed about me is, militarily, I don't like to say where I'm going and what I'm doing,” Trump explained. “And I've watched past administrations say, 'Well, we will attack at such and such a day, and such and such an hour.' ”
That was most likely a reference to former president Barack Obama's plans to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul, a plan he discussed publicly along with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Trump has made that reference repeatedly, dating back to the 2016 campaign trail. He alluded to it at the Oct. 19 presidential debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He made the same reference Feb. 16 during a news conference, telling CBS News reporter Major Garrett that he won't reveal his thoughts about a Russian spy ship that was reportedly sailing off the coast of the United States.
And whether Trump genuinely believes he has to keep his cards close to his chest, or uses it as an excuse to avoid policy details, one thing is clear: He just isn't going to say much about the nitty-gritty of foreign policy until he feels like it.