Foreign Policy of Confusion

Posted by Myshkin Kabir
February 8, 2017

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When Donald Trump was elected as the President in November 2016, foreign policy observers predicted an era of uncertainty.

If the first few weeks of President Trump are anything to go by, we will have to expect the unexpected.

What do the first few weeks of the Trump administration have the say about his foreign policy over the next four years? What impact would these have on US’ allies?

These are questions many around the world have been asking since November 2016.

Trump’s election campaign had given glimpses into his potential foreign policy stance. He was clearly up in arms against trade deals like the NAFTA and TPP. He openly welcomed UK’s vote to leave the EU. He wanted Mexico to pay for the wall cross the US-Mexico border.

He also termed the NATO as an obsolete agency and threatened to relook at US’ engagement in the NATO.

Most significantly, he openly praised Vladmir Putin, sparking debates of how a Trump lead USA would see closer ties with Russia.

As President elect, he broke from tradition, openly criticizing President Obama’s stance on the UN Resolution against Israel.

Trump Ascends The White House

Post January 20, 2017, many expected to see a radical shift in the way US foreign policy is conducted. These predictions have come out to be true so far.

Over the past three weeks, we have seen it all. There has been a heated exchange with Australian Prime Minister over the phone. Trump’s tweet calling for Mexico to pay for the border wall, resulted in the Mexican President cancelling a state visit.

His executive order barring citizens from seven Muslim majority countries has sparked angry responses from leaders across the world.

A verbal and Twitter battle with Iran has lead to new sanctions being imposed.

Language of Trouble

Going by what we have seen so far, is it possible to come up with a rough picture of how US foreign policy under Trump would shape up? Will there be a sift in the way foreign policy is conducted?

The answer to the latter question would be more straightforward.

As far as the way foreign policy is conducted, Trump has made it clear he does not care much for diplomatic language or protocol. When questioned on the renewed sanctions on Iran, he responded stating, “They aren’t behaving themselves”. One would not expect such language to be used when engaging in foreign policy.

Trump’s use of Twitter to express his views on foreign policy is a clear break from tradition. As a Presidential candidate, the use of Twitter and the undiplomatic language could have been acceptable. However, Trump has shown his inclination to use Twitter to express his opinions even after taking over as the President.

Back To The Future

The more challenging question is what we can say about Trump’s overall foreign policy direction. His handling of the NAFTA and TPP has gone on expected lines.

Considering his position on the border wall, one expected differences to crop up with Mexico. The cancelled state visit is a sign of growing differences between US and Mexico. Over the next few years, one can expect more differences to crop up has Trump goes ahead with his plan to build the wall.

Trump’s opposition to the TPP during his election campaign raised quite a few eyebrows in Australia.

While some friction was expected between Trump and the Australian Prime Minister, no one would have predicted the showdown Trump and Turnbull had over the phone. If news reports are to be believed, then, this would mean significant tensions would emerge between US and one of its closest allies, Australia.

There is a great degree of uncertainty regarding Trump’s approach towards Russia.

Though his election campaign hinted at a possible US-Russia détente, the US ambassador’s speech in the UN criticizing Russia’s actions in Ukraine has put question marks over Trump’s Russia policy.

After taking over as President, Trump has not given any hints on how he would approach the Russian question. While his election campaign hinted at close ties with Putin, the UN speech sends a different signal.

With regards to Israel, Trump’s election campaign promised to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As president elect, he broke all protocol by pushing the Obama administration to veto the resolution against Israel. When the outcome was not in Israel’s favour, in another first, Trump took to Twitter openly criticizing US’ stance.

After taking over as president, there has been a growing call from lawmakers including Republicans asking Trump to mellow down his stance. Considering the fact that his own party men are calling for a more watered stance, Trump’s hands may be tied with regards to Israel.

Foreign Policy of Confusion

More then two weeks after taking oath, there is still no clear picture regarding Trump’s foreign policy. We can say with some amount of certainty that tensions are bound to arise with Mexico as Trump pushes ahead with his program to build the wall.

With regards to Russia and Israel, there have been mixed signals.

The phone conversation between Trump and Turnbull poses serious questions regarding Trump’s strategic thinking. Australia is a vital part of US’ security calculations in the Asia-Pacific region. His hardline approach towards Australia, throws into question Trump’s security calculations.

While the overall picture of Trump’s foreign policy position is still not very clear, what is clear is the shift in the way foreign relations is conducted.

Protocol and diplomatic language do not feature anywhere in Trump’s foreign policy manual. One can expect more twitter outbursts, un-diplomatic language and verbal battles over the next four years.

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