Keeping Track of Trump’s Foreign Policy: From the Kerch Strait to Russian sanctions, Khashoggi, Syria, and Afghanistan

U.S. foreign policy under the direction of a malevolent simpleton

The great challenge facing observers and critics of U.S. foreign policy is to keep track of the multiple outrages that keep spewing out of Trump’s administration, like a huge water cannon pouring forth evil creatures any one of which could destroy the world.

We wrote recently that

Now that the generals are gone or leaving, we have nothing to look forward to but the incompetent foreign policy of the simpleton in the White House, as often as not guided by reports and commentary gleaned on TV from Fox News.

Repeat those words: U.S. foreign policy is now in the hands of the simpleton in the White House.

Without constraints. Not taking advice from experts. Deciding policy on the basis of campaign talking points. Without factual or policy analysis. Without expert input from people who actually know something about what is being decided.

In a word, the foreign policy of a simpleton in the White House.

The nation, and its foreign policy interests, are in dire peril.

What are the Republicans going to do about it?
–“Putin’s puppet delivers, on Syria and sanctions—The foreign policy of a simpleton,” The Trenchant Observer, December 20, 2018.

Upon reflection over Christmas, this statement must be amended. Not only are we talking about “the foreign policy of a simpleton in the White House,” but we are also talking about the foreign policy of a malevolent simpleton in the White House.

If we leave out the adjective “malevolent”, we miss a fundamental aspect of America’s present predicament. The simpleton is guided by malevolent impulses. He appears to enjoy inflicting pain on others, and messing with all the honorable people in the world who are trying to solve real-world problems.

He seems to enjoy creating chaos, with little or no regard for the consequences of that chaos. He has created a cult following, which he uses to strike fear into the hearts of Republican legislators, fearful that they might lose their new entitlement to a legislative seat if he calls upon his followers to “primary” them.

The key point to take away is the understanding that he is not just representing another policy or another option. He doesn’t listen to advice and delights in going against it, as when he decided to suddenly pull out of Syria against the unanimous advice of his national security and military advisers. The problem is not merely that he has given an enormous gift to Putin, Assad, Iran and Hezbollah, but that he decided on the withdrawal without gaining any advantage for the foreign policy interests of the U.S. in return.

Now that he has chased away those few experienced national security officials who might theoretically have restrained him from following his wildest impulses, we have entered a new and extremely dangerous situation.

With a malevolent simpleton running American foreign policy, like a dictator facing no constraints within the White House or his Trump Republican Party, it is all the more important that outside observers keep track of Trump’s foreign policy outrages, and seek to hold him accountable, whether before the electorate in the 2020 elections, before the House and the Senate in impeachment proceedings, or in seeking to force his resignation.  A 25th Amendment intervention to remove him from office seems improbable at the moment, but that  could change with a major event such as the collapse of the world financial system.

Thomas L. Friedman, one of America’s most respected foreign policy experts and a long-term columnist for the New Times, called several days ago, in effect, for Republicans to lead efforts to secure Trump’s resignation or impeachment.

See Thomas L.. Friedman, “Time for G.O.P. to Threaten to Fire Trump,” New York Times, December 24, 2018.

Republican leaders need to mount an intervention, as Friedman suggests, as soon as possible. The longer they delay, the greater will be the damage to them individually, to the Republican Party, and to the nation.

Keeping Track of Trump’s fire-hose stream of outrages

Following is a short list of foreign policy issues where Trump has or is reacting disastrously. Check back for Updates and fuller explanations.

1. Russian Aggression Against the Ukraine in the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov;

2. Relaxation of Russian sanctions against Oleg Deripaska and his aluminum companies;

3. Immediate U.S. Withdrawal of all forces in Syria;

4. Plan to withdraw 50%of forces, or 7,000 troops, from Afghanistan;

5. Resignation and early dismissal of Secretary of Defense James Mattis;

6. Saudi assassination of Jamal Khashoggi;

7. Rodrigo Duterte and assassinations in the Philippines;

8. The failure to act to moderate Climate Change;

9.  The failure to effectively check Chinese expansion and claims in the South China Sea;

10.  The failure to check the growing nuclear threat from North Korea; and

11.   The failure to react publicly to Russian military moves in Venezuela.

The above issues represent only a list of very recent developments where Trump has acted or failed to act, in a disastrous manner.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.