What would a Trump Foreign Policy look like?

Below are excerpts of my book, “The Rise of National Populism and Democratic Socialism, What our Response should be?” on what a Trump Foreign Policy may be evolving into.

Trump: The Beginning of Realpolitik

Trump’s foreign policy may be a return to the realpolitik of the Nixon era and Trump’s foreign policy may have a coherent strategy based on a balance of power view of the world. Michael Barone noted, “Some will dismiss his appointments and tweets as expressing no more than the impulses of an ignorant and undisciplined temperament — no more premeditated than the lunges of a rattlesnake. Others may recall that similar things were said (by me, as well as many others) about his campaign strategy. But examination of the entrails of the election returns suggests that Trump was following a deliberate strategy based on shrewd insight when he risked antagonizing white college-educated voters in the process of appealing to non-college-educated whites.”[1]

Historian Niall Ferguson views Trump’s foreign policy as an extension of Henry Kissinger’s worldview. He observed, “A world run by regional great powers with strong men in command, all of whom understand that any lasting international order must be based on the balance of power.”[2]

 As Michael Barone notes, Trump took a congratulatory call for his election victory from Taiwan’s president. The first visitor to Trump Tower after the election was Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; this sent a message that China will not be allowed to operate in the Western Pacific unchallenged and Trump will work with our allies. Trump also appointed Terry Branstad the governor of Iowa, as the ambassador to China. Branstad first met Xi Jinping in 1985. Barone views the appointment as a “bad cop, good cop” move. He observed, “Trump wants some changes in trade relations with China and limits on its probes in the South China Sea and will build up U.S. military forces. But there’s room for acceptance of China as a great power. Trump wants some changes in trade relations with China and limits on its probes in the South China Sea and will build up U.S. military forces.”[3]

As for dealing with Russia, Barone added, “There’s room for acceptance of Russia, too, as suggested by the secretary-of-state nomination of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, self-proclaimed friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s. He may be opposed by Republican senators who, like Mitt Romney in 2012, see Russia as “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.” But perhaps Trump favors Kissinger’s proposal for a neutral and decentralized (i.e., dominated and partitioned) Ukraine, with an end to sanctions on Russia. Tillerson would be a good choice if that were your goal. This would make the Baltic States and Poland understandably nervous, but they could take some comfort in Trump’s reaffirmation of our NATO pledge to defend them and in the fact that Pentagon nominee James Mattis has gone out of his way to honor Estonia for its sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan.”[4]

Trump’s criticism of NATO, including that NATO member states should contribute more toward their own defenses, may have seen results. As Michael Barone noted, “Finance ministers, stung by Trump’s campaign criticisms, are ponying up more money to meet their NATO defense-spending commitments; German chancellor Angela Merkel is backing down from her disastrous decision to welcome 1 million refugees.”[5]

Brexit was the first break in the European Union’s dominance of the continent. While Obama threatened Britain with being sent to the “back of the queue” if they voted to leave the EU, Trump supported Brexit and the U.S-U.K. free trade agreement. Brexit could be the first step toward the formation of the Anglosphere. Trump, as part of his “America First” foreign policy, has little use for multinational organizations. The Anglosphere is an alliance that supports Trump’s view of America’s new role in the world.

In the Middle East, will Trump ditch the Iranian deal or police it more aggressively? Will he booster the Sunni-Israeli alliance against increasing Iranian influence? Trump’s choices may reflect accommodation toward this strategy. While Trump may pay less lip service to human rights, the reality is that Obama also paid lip service to human rights.

Niall Ferguson noted, Yet it was Trump who in August pledged that his Administration would “speak out against the oppression of women, gays and people of different faith” in the name of Islam. While the Obama Administration has shunned proponents of Islamic reform, Trump pledged to “be a friend to all moderate Muslim reformers in the Middle East, and [to] amplify their voices. This includes speaking out against the horrible practice of honor killings,” as well as establishing as “one of my first acts as President… a Commission on Radical Islam which will include reformist voices in the Muslim community.” [6]

Ferguson’s point is that Trump may not make human rights a central theme of his foreign policy but he may be more willing to stand up for those rights in his own way. President Obama often talked the importance of human rights, but the Obama administration often ignored people who were truly suffering. His Syria policy may be responsible for the death of a half million Syrians, not to mention the thousands of people who died in Iraq and other Middle East nations as a result of Obama’s reckless policies.

Trump’s screening of would-be immigrants for links not just to terrorism but also to a political Islam that promotes a sharia law inconsistent with our Constitution is similar to measures taken during the Cold War excluding communists. Ferguson compared Trump’s foreign policy to Theodore Roosevelt’s. He wrote, “It is also precisely the way Theodore Roosevelt spoke when anarchists posed a threat to American values. After all, Roosevelt became President only because the anarchist Leon Czolgosz murdered President William McKinley in September 1901, and Roosevelt himself narrowly avoided assassination in 1912.” [7] Trump views radical Jihadism as more an ideology than a religion, which leads to his view about restricting Muslim immigration.

Theodore Roosevelt condemned anarchism in his first annual address to Congress in the terrorist ideology, “[T]he teachings of professed anarchists, and probably also by the reckless utterances of those who on the stump and in the public press, appeal to the dark and evil spirits of malice and greed, envy and sullen hatred. The wind is sowed by the men who preach such doctrines, and they cannot escape their share of responsibility for the whirlwind that is reaped. . . . The man who advocates anarchy directly or indirectly, in any shape or fashion, or the man who apologizes for anarchists and their deeds, makes himself morally accessory to murder before the fact.” [8]

Roosevelt wanted to exclude and deport anarchists, and Congress agreed by passing laws that did exactly that. Niall Ferguson compared Roosevelt’s speech with Trump’s views, “Today, for anarchism read radical Islam.”[9]

In 1982, Herman Kahn wrote The Coming Boom, in which he foresaw the economic prosperity of the Reagan years and a new world order that included the rise of regional powers and new challenges to the bipolar power struggle between the United States and the U.S.S.R. Kahn thought that a multipolar world would eventually stabilize but the era before stabilization could be chaotic. Kahn’s predictions proved to be accurate.

Kahn saw the rise of China, Japan, and Germany as powers. Today, Germany is the leading European economic power and Russia is working on expanding its sphere of influence within Central Europe while reestablishing Russian nationalism. China is working on being a Pacific power and both Russia and China look to put checks on American power. After the collapse of the Soviet Empire, United States was the lone superpower but Russia, China, Germany, and India are now looking for their own place as global powers. The rise of these countries signifies that we live in a multipolar world.

The Trump Administration will challenge our loyalty to transnational organizations, beginning with the United Nations. If one is serious about foreign policy, you can’t be serious about the United Nations, but if you are serious about the United Nations, you can’t be serious about foreign policy. When Obama failed to veto a UN resolution condemning Israel after the 2016 election, this reminded many Americans and most Republicans of the anti-American and anti-Israeli attitude of much of the United Nations.  

Lawrence Sondhaus in his book World War One: The Global Revolution discussed the debate about the U.S. joining the League of Nations and how the Republicans in the Senate failed to ratify Woodrow Wilson’s vision of transnational collective security. Sondhaus observed that while Henry Cabot Lodge opposed the League of Nations, he favored an active foreign policy that defended American interests similar to what President Theodore Roosevelt followed during his administration. Lodge supported a separate treaty that promised France that the United States and Great Britain would defend her, since Lodge perceived this treaty as being in our national interest. Wilson’s refusal to separate the debate over whether America should join the League of Nations from the issue of America signing the Versailles Treaty doomed United States support for the Versailles Treaty. A similar debate will soon begin about America’s involvement in transnational organizations such as the United Nations and whether it is in our national interest to stay in or at least be as active in these organizations as in the past. Trump’s “America first” foreign policy doesn’t mean isolationism, but a foreign policy that defends America’s interest first.

Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute for Human Rights and the Holocaust, stated about the UN resolutions about Israel, “Let’s be absolutely clear about what has just happened. The Palestinians have completed the hijacking of every major UN institution. The 2016 General Assembly has adopted nineteen resolutions condemning Israel and nine critical of all other UN states combined. The 2016 Commission on the Status of Women adopted one resolution condemning Israel and zero on any other state. The 2016 UN Human Rights Council celebrated ten years of adopting more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than any other place on earth. And now – to the applause of the assembled – the Palestinians can add the UN Security Council to their list… Resolution sponsors Malaysia and New Zealand explained UN-think to the Council this way: Israeli settlements are “the single biggest threat to peace” and the “primary threat to the viability of the two-state solution.” Not seven decades of unremitting Arab terror and violent rejection of Jewish self-determination in the historic homeland of the Jewish people…At its core, this UN move is a head-on assault on American democracy. President Obama knew full well he did not have Congressional support for the Iran deal, so he went straight to the Security Council first. Likewise, he knew that there would have been overwhelming Congressional opposition to this resolution, so he carefully planned his stealth attack…He waited until Congress was not in session. Members of his administration made periodic suggestions that nothing had been decided. There were occasional head fakes that he was “leaning” against it. He produced smiling photo-ops from a Hawaiian golf course with no obvious major foreign policy moves minutes away. Holiday time-outs were in full-swing across the country. And then he pounced, giving Israel virtually no notice of his intent not to veto.[10]

Donald Trump s bringing back realpolitik, in which our country’s foreign policy will be based on America’s national interest. Idealism will no longer be a reason to send young Americans into combat, but defending our national interest will.


[1] Michael Barone, “What’s Trump’s Take on Foreign Policy?”, syndicated column appearing December 16, 2016.

[2] Niall Ferguson, “Donald Trump’s New World Order,” The American Interest, November 21, 2016.

[3] Michael Barone, “What’s Trump’s Take on U.S. Foreign Policy?”

[4] Michael Barone, “What’s Trump’s Take on U.S. Foreign Policy?”

[5] Michael Barone, “What’s Trump’s Take on U.S. Foreign Policy?”

[6] Niall Ferguson, “Donald Trump’s New World Order.”

[7] Niall Ferguson, “Donald Trump’s New World Order.”

[8] Theodore Roosevelt, “First Annual Message to Congress, December 3, 1901,” found on The American Presidency Project, presidency.ucsb.edu.

[9] Niall Ferguson, “Donald Trump’s New World Order.”

[10] Anne Bayefsky, “Diplomatic Terrorism at The UN, Courtesy President Obama,” Fox News, December 24, 2016.

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