When President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address last year, he didn’t have much to say about foreign policy. Like many presidents before him, he devoted most of his time to a laundry list of domestic issues
But Trump did reference some important international matters during that speech. And with his second State of the Union speech approaching on Tuesday, it’s worth looking back at what he said last year — and what has actually happened since then.
China and Russia
“Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy and our values.”
Trump made only fleeting references to two of the biggest foreign policy problems for the United States — China and Russia — in his 2018 speech. Yet his administration went on to pursue ambitious, even radical policies with regard to both: implementing a trade war with clear political elements against China and pulling out of a Cold War-era nuclear nonproliferation agreement with Russia, for example.
Trump may still be unconvinced that the two major powers are his biggest worries: Just last week, he publicly berated his own intelligence chiefs for focusing too much on the threats posed by Moscow and Beijing at a Senate “worldwide threats” hearing.
Iraq and Syria
“Last year, I also pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the Earth. One year later, I am proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria. But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated.”
In December 2018, Trump announced that he would pull U.S. troops out of Syria — a move that apparently caught many in his administration off-guard and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Some experts say that the Islamic State remains poised to regroup, and the timetable for removing the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops from the country is shrouded in confusion.
“Our warriors in Afghanistan also have new rules of engagement. Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.”
The Trump administration implemented new rules of engagement for Afghanistan in late 2017, resulting in a spike in airstrikes. However, the United States later began withdrawing troops from the country. Washington has also been pursuing peace talks with the Taliban, which could lead to an agreement to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees. So far, the Taliban refuses to negotiate with the democratically elected Afghan government.
Israel and the Palestinian territories
“Last month, I also took an action endorsed unanimously by the Senate just months before: I recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
During his 2018 speech, Trump said countries that opposed his decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem could face the risk of losing America foreign assistance money. Actually implementing this policy has proved logistically difficult, in part due to resistance from Pentagon officials who fear that the United States would be ceding influence to China.
Trump did not talk about a potential peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, something he has described as the “ultimate deal.” The Palestinians have refused to meet with U.S. negotiators since Trump recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and Trump has yet to reveal his long-promised peace plan.
“When the people of Iran rose up against the crimes of their corrupt dictatorship, I did not stay silent. America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom. . . . I am asking the Congress to address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal.”
Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal on May 8, 2018. A few months later, the U.S. government reinstated sanctions on Iran, a move that caused friction between Washington and the European countries that continue to observe the pact.
Attempts to pressure Tehran have been further complicated by Trump’s other moves in the Middle East. On Monday, the Iraqi president suggested that Trump’s desire to “watch” Iran from U.S. bases in Iraq would not work under the current agreement between Washington and Baghdad.
Venezuela and Cuba
“My administration has also imposed tough sanctions on the communist and socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela.”
The Trump administration has continued to apply economic pressure to both nations — particularly Venezuela, where the United States has recognized an opposition leader as president and moved to block access to Venezuelan state assets within the United States.
“No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea.”
Trump’s 2018 speech concluded with a lengthy coda about the human rights abuses carried out by Kim Jong Un in North Korea. One of his guests at the speech was Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector whose leg had been amputated. Trump also made multiple references to Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died just days after being released from 17 months of captivity in North Korea.
On June 12, 2018, Trump met with Kim in Singapore for talks on denuclearization. The administration has since avoided public discussion of human rights in North Korea for fear of scuppering progress on those negotiations. A second summit with Kim is tentatively planned for later this month.