The president could have started a foreign-policy revolution. Instead, he triggered a foreign-policy revolt.
If you’re a Trump supporter, you might be feeling pretty good about the new administration’s first steps. You may have hailed the Muslim ban (and let’s be honest, that’s what it is) as a long-overdue step to protect Americans from dangerous foreigners. (It’s not, of course, but never mind.) Perhaps you also think the chorus of criticism from lawyers, the media, academics, corporate leaders, foreign governments, and former government officials — including many prominent Republicans — is just welcome evidence that Trump is on the right track. You might well view his first two weeks as clear signs a new sheriff is in town and putting the whole world on notice. You may even see his end-runs around the interagency process, his decision to replace top defense and intelligence officials on the National Security Council with alt-right advisor Stephen Bannon as steps designed to protect the “America First” policies that you voted for in November and that he reaffirmed on Inauguration Day.
With all due respect, you would be wrong.
In fact, if you are a loyal Trump supporter, and especially someone who embraced him because you thought he would deliver a smarter, more self-interested, more restrained, and above all more successful foreign policy than his predecessors, you should be disappointed and deeply worried. Why? Because in just two weeks he has squandered a genuine opportunity to put American foreign policy on a more solid footing and has managed to unite and empower opposition at home and abroad in ways that would have been hard to imagine a few months ago.
Trump (and political advisor Bannon) did none of these things. Instead, they started to pick several fights with China while undercutting the U.S. position in Asia. Yesterday he badgered Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in an acrimonious phone call — and here we are talking about the leader of the country that has fought at America’s side in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan — and he bragged (again) about his electoral win. They picked another pointless fight with Mexico, mostly because Trump can’t admit what is obvious to all: If that stupid wall ever gets built, Americans will have to pay for it. The White House announced an unlawful ban on Muslim immigrants, and rolled the new policy out as ineptly as possible. I mean, seriously: They shut the door on hundreds of extensively vetted refugees on Holocaust Remembrance Day (thereby invoking memories of the country’s callous response to Nazi persecution in the 1930s), and then they doubled-down by deliberately excluding any mention of Jews from the official statement on the day itself. One guess about which of their supporters Trump and Bannon were trying to appeal to with that slick move.
Meanwhile, he is openly flirting with a trade war that would damage the entire world economy, including ours, yet with no apparent purpose or endgame in mind. After telling us that he knows “much more” than the generals, his “secret plan” for dealing with the Islamic State turns out to be “ask the Defense Department to come up with one,” as if nobody at the Pentagon had given any thought to the matter. Trump’s rash and ill-considered Muslim ban was a blunder here as well, as it will make Iraqis even more reluctant to cooperate with us, and they’re the ones who are currently fighting and dying to drive the Islamic State from the cities it still controls. And his national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has started saber-rattling with Iran. Instead of getting us out of fruitless conflicts in the Middle East, Trump and Bannon’s obsession with Islam makes a true and costly “clash of civilizations” more likely.
Last but not least, Trump & Co. are continuing their misguided efforts to destabilize relations with our closest allies, based on the bizarre belief that this somehow strengthens America’s international position. Do you really believe Americans are better off when the head of the European Union, who happens to be the staunchly pro-American Polish politician Donald Tusk, is warning that the United States is itself a threat to EU stability? And all the while Trump and his surrogates continue to demonize anyone with the temerity to disagree with Fearless Leader or to question his infallibility, in a matter more reminiscent of Mussolini, Stalin, or the Kim family in North Korea than of Washington, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, or any of Trump’s other predecessors in the Oval office.
Some of Trump’s supporters may have flocked to him because they were tired of the failed strategy of liberal hegemony and worried that Hillary Clinton and her team were going to repeat the same mistakes that Obama, Bush, or her husband made. If so, it’s increasingly clear they aren’t going to get the smart and more restrained approach to the world they were hoping for. By that standard, in short, Donald J. Trump is already a failure. Didn’t take him long. I would say it was “Sad!” but it’s not. It’s tragic.
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