Chronicling the accomplishments of an administration’s first hundred days is usually an exercise in domestic politics and policy. Traditionally, a newly inaugurated president has experienced a honeymoon phase in which he can get at least one piece of significant legislation passed by Congress.
The Trump administration is unusual in this regard. There has been no honeymoon, as Trump has been historically unpopular. His major effort at domestic legislation crashed and burned. Beyond getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court, Trump can mostly point to frenetic activity rather than tangible accomplishment.
What about the global stage, however? On the one hand, here I agree with President Trump, who, as opposed to candidate Trump, thinks of the 100-day deadline as a “ridiculous standard.” On the other hand, a hundred days is a good stock-taking moment. So what has the administration accomplished?
In the realm of positive gains, I’m afraid that it’s a beggar’s banquet. I suppose Trump’s actions in Syria garnered the most praise, but since this administration’s goals remain inchoate it’s impossible to tell. If one looks to North Korea, one finds a series of embarrassing gaffes ranging from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s ham-handed visit to misplacing a carrier group to yesterday’s ridiculous briefing of senators. On Iran, there’s the rather embarrassing “on notice” warning followed by a whole lot of nothing. I suppose pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership could count as an accomplishment, it it hadn’t made Trump’s aim to renegotiate NAFTA that much harder. Yesterday’s unrealized threat to pull out of NAFTA is Exhibit A of administration officials thinking that schizophrenic posturing looks like the art of the deal. In general, as Spoiler Alerts predicted last November, the trend has been for Trump to devalue his own words.
If one steps back and considers whether this collage of actions is coalescing into a emergent Trump doctrine, one has to confront word salads like this pile of Reince Priebus mush in Time magazine:
Trump is “reshaping our position in the world,” Priebus said, and “really establishing, I think, a Trump Doctrine in setting some certain lines of where we’re not going to allow people like [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] to go, but at the same time making it clear that we’re not interested in long-term, you know, ground wars in the Middle East, but obviously focusing in on ISIS and what we’re doing in the Middle East to protect us here in the United States, working with China on ongoing issues with North Korea that are very real and are serious issues that takes cooperation within the region to handle appropriately.”
If the first rule of foreign policy is never get involved in a land war in Asia, a close second is to not let the White House chief of staff introduce any foreign policy doctrine. Ever.
To be fair, however, we should consider more positive assessments of Trump’s tenure. In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Mathew Kroenig makes the case that, “the critics have gotten a lot wrong and failed to give credit where credit is due. The Trump administration has left behind the rhetoric of the campaign trail and has begun to adopt foreign policies that are, for the most part, well suited to the challenges ahead.”
Read the whole thing to see Kroenig’s argument, which relies on equal parts solid analysis, wishcasting, an eagerness to please, and a willful disregard for Trump’s own-goals during the first hundred days. The paragraph below manages to encompass all three of these impulses at the same time. It also points the way toward the answer to Trump’s greatest foreign policy accomplishment in his first hundred days:
A president cannot foresee all the foreign policy crises he will face, but he can choose the people he will have at his side when those crises erupt. As Trump promised during the campaign, he has assembled a team of “the best and brightest” the country has to offer. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster rank among the most influential military officers of their generation. Both are not only extraordinary leaders but also intellectuals capable of farsighted strategic thinking. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson served as the CEO of ExxonMobil for over a decade, running a corporation with revenue larger than the GDPs of many small nations and overseeing operations in more than 40 countries. Rounding out the national security cabinet, Vice President Mike Pence, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo are all experienced and accomplished politicians.
So far I’ve been unimpressed with Tillerson and mildly impressed with Haley, but that’s not the important part of this paragraph. The important part of the paragraph are the names not mentioned: former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and soon-to-be-former deputy NSC adviser K.T. McFarland. Flynn seemed unhinged during the campaign, and all the reports I’ve heard suggest that he did not handle his NSC job well at all. The stories I have heard about McFarland’s job performance make Flynn sound hyper-competent by comparison.
It’s really very simple: Trump’ greatest foreign accomplishment in his first hundred days are twofold:
- Trump managed not to blow up the entire world; and
- Trump fired his first choices of national security adviser and deputy NSC adviser because they were so bad, and they were the folks most like to blow up the world.
To be sure, Trump still has many dubious staffers, like, say, this guy. But it’s a start.
Trump’s greatest foreign policy accomplishment to date is to go from massive beclowning of the executive branch to only moderate beclowning of the executive branch without the world blowing up.
As president, Donald Trump has managed to outperform the campaign pledges of Sweet Meteor of Death. I suppose that’s something. If the National Enquirer is any guide, however, then it won’t be something for long: