Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Obama, Trump, and the Future of U.S. Foreign Policy

Thus far, signs indicate that Donald Trump will continue to ensure that the United States plays the dominant role in policing the world.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Lobelog

Amid all the uncertainty about what a Trump presidency means for the future role of the United States in the world, one possibility is that Trump will embrace some variant of the policies that have been pursued for the past few decades by the nation’s foreign policy establishment. Although Trump may break sharply with the establishment consensus that the United States must play the lead role in imposing order on the world, many signs indicate that Trump will continue to ensure that the United States plays the dominant role in policing the world.

Certainly, many Washington insiders feel differently about Trump. On election day, former State Department official Daniel Serwer presented the standard view of the foreign policy establishment that the “dramatic differences” between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton made Trump a problematic candidate. Trump “prides himself on unpredictability” while Clinton “has a long track record well within the post-9/11 foreign policy consensus,” Serwer explained, adding that Clinton “wants to maintain the stability of the international system and restore American authority.” With his remarks, Serwer indicated that the foreign policy establishment could trust Clinton but not Trump to use American power to actively enforce a system of global order.

At times, additional observers issued more serious warnings. On the day after the election, for example, The New York Times warned that Trump would reverse decades of foreign policy practice by withdrawing the United States from its deep engagement with the world. “For the first time since before World War II, Americans chose a president who promised to reverse the internationalism practiced by predecessors of both parties and to build walls both physical and metaphorical,” the newspaper reported. “Mr. Trump’s win foreshadowed an America more focused on its own affairs while leaving the world to take care of itself.” In short, The New York Times captured the basic establishment concern that Trump would no longer enforce the system of postwar order that his predecessors had maintained throughout the postwar period.

Enforcing the International Order

Still, not everyone agrees with the predictions. Although the foreign policy establishment remains concerned with Trump’s unpredictability and perhaps even his neglect of decades of establishment thinking, several high-level officials in the Obama administration have recently begun to suggest that the United States will continue to play the lead role in enforcing a system of international order.

Notably, President Barack Obama has provided some reassurances. Speaking with the press a few days after the election, Obama made the case that Donald Trump would not be able to simply dictate a new strategy to the vast bureaucracy that manages the nation’s foreign policy. The foreign policy decision-making process “is the result not just of the President, it is the result of countless interactions and arrangements and relationships between our military and other militaries, and our diplomats and other diplomats, and intelligence officers and development workers,” Obama explained.

Moreover, Obama insisted that much of the media commentary about Trump missed the fact that most U.S. officials continue to share the same basic foreign policy goals. Certainly, “there’s enormous continuity beneath the day-to-day news that makes us that indispensable nation when it comes to maintaining order and promoting prosperity around the world,” Obama stated. “That will continue.”

Finally, Obama disclosed one more important detail that pointed towards future continuity. Citing the meeting that he held with Trump at the White House after the election, Obama said that Trump “expressed a great interest in maintaining our core strategic relationships.” Trump, in other words, appeared eager to continue working closely with U.S. allies to enforce a system of global order.

Shared Priorities

Trump and the Obama administration have always shared many of the same foreign policy objectives, even though Trump made every effort during his campaign to condemn Obama’s policies as dangerous and destructive to both the United States and the world.

For starters, both Trump and the Obama administration have made it clear that they intend to ensure that the United States remains the most dominant military power in the world.

In March 2016, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter presented the basic position of the Obama administration when he assured the Senate Committee on Armed Services that the Department of Defense “will keep ensuring our dominance in all domains.” The following month, Trump declared his support for the same objective. “Our military dominance must be unquestioned,” Trump stated.

Furthermore, Trump has displayed similar commitments on other fundamental issues. For instance, Trump has made it clear that he intends to prioritize the interests of the United States above everything else. “America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration,” Trump announced during his campaign. Indeed, Trump insisted that he would base his foreign policy on the premise that the United States should only take actions in the world that work to the advantage of the United States. “We’re going to finally have a coherent foreign policy based upon American interests, and the shared interests of our allies,” Trump stated.

Under Obama’s leadership, administration officials have taken the same approach. Although the Obama administration has not used the same slogan, it has adopted an America First strategy. Vice President Joe Biden pointed to the administration’s strategy when he toured Asia in July 2016 as part of the administration’s “rebalance” to Asia. “We’re not doing anyone any favors,” Biden stated, referring to the administration’s special focus on the region. “It’s overwhelmingly in our interest. Overwhelmingly.” Two months later, State Department official Antony J. Blinken provided more direct confirmation of the administration’s strategy. “We don’t work with other nations as a luxury, or as charity,” Blinken explained. “Our national interest demands our global engagement.”

Even President Obama has confirmed that his administration has adopted an America First strategy. When he recently commented on his decision to commit the United States to the Paris Agreement in order to address the threat of global climate change, Obama confirmed that he was primarily motivated by the U.S. interests at stake. Currently, “the biggest threat when it comes to climate change and pollution isn’t going to come from us — because we only have 300 million people,” Obama explained. “It’s going to come from China, with over a billion people, and India, with over a billion people.” With his remarks, Obama indicated that the United States needed to join the Paris Agreement to prevent countries such as China and India from harming the United States with their pollution.

Shared Approach to the Islamic State

Both Trump and Obama have also made it clear that they intend to completely destroy the Islamic State (ISIS or IS). In November 2015, Trump outlined his position during a radio commercial in which he pledged to “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS.”

In recent months, officials in the Obama administration have articulated similar goals. This past June, for example, State Department official Brett McGurk stood before a map that showed various areas under the control of IS and announced that “we have to wipe them off this map.” A few months later, Secretary of State John Kerry took a similar position. The United States has an interest in “terminating ISIL/Daesh, as fast as possible,” Kerry stated.

In fact, the Obama administration has been busy working to fulfill its mission. In the time since the administration began its air campaign in August 2014, U.S. and coalition forces have conducted more than 15,000 airstrikes against IS and have killed more than 45,000 IS fighters. In other words, the administration has been bombing the hell out of ISIS. Clearly, IS fighters “should sleep with one eye open because we’re not gonna give them a moment’s peace,” U.S. Colonel John Dorrian explained on November 16, 2016.

In the end, the outgoing Obama administration will soon hand over power to a Trump administration that shares some of the very same foreign policy commitments. Despite the fact that the foreign policy establishment remains uncertain about Trump’s intentions, the president-elect has provided many signals that he intends for the United States to continue playing an active role in enforcing a system of global order.

As Trump has put it, using the standard language of the foreign policy establishment, his administration will mainly be “focusing on creating stability in the world.”

Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts and two-time failed presidential candidate, is a foreign policy hawk with neoconservative leanings who appears set to become the next senator from Utah.


Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman and longtime “superlobbyist” who has supported numerous neoconservative advocacy campaigns, has become embroiled in the special prosecutor’s investigation into the Donald Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.


Jon Lerner is a conservative political strategist and top adviser to US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. He was a key figure in the “Never Trump” Campaign, which appears to have led to his being ousted as Vice President Mike Pence’s national security adviser.


Pamela Geller is a controversial anti-Islam activist who has founded several “hate groups” and likes to repeat debunked myths, including about the alleged existence of “no-go” Muslim zones in Europe.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Although overlooked by President Trump for cabinet post, Gingrich has tried to shape affairs in the administration, including by conspiring with government officials to “purge the State Department of staffers they viewed as insufficiently loyal” to the president.


Former Sen Mark Kirk (R-IL) is an advisor for United Against Nuclear Iran. He is an outspoken advocate for aggressive action against Iran and a fierce defender of right-wing Israeli policies.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Other than the cynical political interests in Moscow and Tehran, there is no conceivable rationale for wanting Bashar al-Assad to stay in power. But the simple fact is, he has won the war. And while Donald Trump has reveled in positive press coverage of the recent attacks on the country, it is clear that they were little more than a symbolic act.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The reality is that the Assad regime is winning the Syrian civil war, and this matters far less to U.S. interests than it does to that regime or its allies in Russia and Iran, who see Syria as their strongest and most consistent entrée into the Arab world. Those incontrovertible facts undermine any notion of using U.S. military force as leverage to gain a better deal for the Syrian people.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

An effective rhetorical tool to normalize military build-ups is to characterize spending increases “modernization.”


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Pentagon has officially announced that that “long war” against terrorism is drawing to a close — even as many counterinsurgency conflicts  rage across the Greater Middle East — and a new long war has begun, a permanent campaign to contain China and Russia in Eurasia.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Revelations that data-consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used ill-gotten personal information from Facebook for the Trump campaign masks the more scandalous reality that the company is firmly ensconced in the U.S. military-industrial complex. It should come as no surprise then that the scandal has been linked to Erik Prince, co-founder of Blackwater.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As the United States enters the second spring of the Trump era, it’s creeping ever closer to more war. McMaster and Mattis may have written the National Defense Strategy that over-hyped the threats on this planet, but Bolton and Pompeo will have the opportunity to address these inflated threats in the worst way possible: by force of arms.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

We meet Donald Trump in the media every hour of every day, which blots out much of the rest of the world and much of what’s meaningful in it.  Such largely unexamined, never-ending coverage of his doings represents a triumph of the first order both for him and for an American cult of personality.


RightWeb
share