Over at Politico, Thomas Wright has an excellent essay detailing Donald Trump’s consistent foreign policy worldview:
In sum, Trump believes that America gets a raw deal from the liberal international order it helped to create and has led since World War II. He has three key arguments that he returns to time and again over the past 30 years. He is deeply unhappy with America’s military alliances and feels the United States is overcommitted around the world. He feels that America is disadvantaged by the global economy. And he is sympathetic to authoritarian strongmen. Trump seeks nothing less than ending the U.S.-led liberal order and freeing America from its international commitments.
You should read the whole thing. Looking at it, I had three thoughts:
- Assignment to Steve Walt: explain how Trump’s vision of American foreign policy is not consistent with the realist theory of international relations. Good luck!!
- As Wright noted in a Brookings Institution blog post from about a week ago, this worldview is actually pretty utopian. Even if you agree with the desired end state (which I do not), getting from the status quo to Fortress America would be problematic. As Wright notes, “To disband or greatly weaken America’s traditional alliances, either tacitly or formally, would be a revolutionary act. It would surely shake the equilibrium.”
- It’s impressive to think about just how badly wrong Trump has been over the past 25 years.
To elaborate on that last point a bit: as Wright notes, Trump has been consistent over the past 25 years about the notion that the United States has been screwed over by other countries. Of course, in the 1990 Playboy interview of Trump that Wright cites in his essay, the target of Trump’s ire is … Japan:
Japan gets almost seventy percent of its oil from the Persian Gulf, relies on ships led back home by our destroyers, battleships, helicopters, frog men. Then the Japanese sail home, where they give the oil to fuel their factories so that they can knock the hell out of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. Their openly screwing us is a disgrace. Why aren’t they paying us? The Japanese cajole us, they bow to us, they tell us how great we are and then they pick our pockets. We’re losing hundreds of billions of dollars a year while they laugh at our stupidity. The Japanese have their great scientists making cars and VCRs and we have our great scientists making missiles so we can defend Japan. Why aren’t we being reimbursed for our costs? The Japanese double- screw the U.S., a real trick: First they take all our money with their consumer goods, then they put it back in buying all of Manhattan. So either way, we lose.
What is fascinating about this comment is that a real estate developer did not understand that Japan was at the peak of its real estate bubble in 1990. So as it turned out, Trump’s concerns about Japan fleecing the United States were, to say the least, somewhat exaggerated.
Trump is now focusing on a different economy posing an ostensible threat to the United States:
Politically, I totally get why Trump is so focused on China. Economically, he’s dead wrong. But let’s adopt Trump’s blinkered worldview about countries winning and losing in global markets for a second. Again, for a real estate guy, Trump seems to not understand or recognize when a country is facing a real estate bubble. Because it only takes a second to realize that Trump is decrying China just at the moment when China is not winning:
Consider the following:
- Despite Trump’s claim that China is undervaluing its currency, that appears to be based on the fact that capital is trying to get the hell out of China.
- No matter what Chinese topline official statistics say about its rate of economic growth, there is other data suggesting that China’s economy has ground to a halt.
- Economists seem pretty convinced that China’s current growth model is tapped out.
To be clear, a Chinese economy that grinds to a halt scares the heck out of me. But my point is simpler: The evidence over the past 25 years suggests that when Donald Trump says that a country is winning, it is a sure sign that it is about to lose, and lose big.
So yes, Donald Trump has a consistent foreign policy worldview, and it has been consistently wrong.