Elias Atienza is a history junior and the Mustang News opinion editor. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
When Donald Trump was elected president, I outlined a cautious optimism for his foreign policy. While I did not believe he would adhere to many of his campaign promises, Trump advocated for a foreign policy that seemed to dial down the foreign interventions of the past and ensure our allies were carrying their own weight.
I wrote, “While I am not going to believe every word he says, I will continue to keep an open mind on his foreign policy and look forward to seeing him enact it. Only time will tell if he will be any different from the last two presidents.”
Nearly a year and a half later, we have a sense of Trump’s foreign policy. In some ways, it is a continuum of the Obama legacy, with expanding secret wars and disregard for congressional authority as exemplified by the Syrian strikes and the continued United States’ support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. In other ways, it is different, as exemplified by the North Korea breakthrough. Trump will meet with Kim Jong Un, the first time a U.S president will meet with the head of the reclusive state.
I will not lie. I’m conflicted about Trump’s foreign policy. For one, though his foreign policy has led us down some dangerous paths, it has had its successes. ISIS is less of a threat to the U.S. and is no longer the boogeyman it once was during the Obama presidency. And though this came primarily as a continuation of the Obama strategy, there were a few changes in the rules of engagement which gave American commanders more leeway when it came to driving out the terrorists from their strongholds. Journalist David French wrote in National Review, “Trump promised to defeat ISIS and he has delivered a tremendous victory.”
Though there was threat of a new war with North Korea — recall the infamous button tweet — the recent breakthrough with North Korea is nothing short of astonishing. Just a year ago it seemed as if we would be on the brink of war and now North Korea is discussing denuclearization and formally ending the Korean War. Does Trump deserve all the credit? In a way, yes. His erratic behavior has forced North Korea to pivot toward South Korea for some assurance there won’t be a war. Additionally, Kim Jong Un has dropped his demands that the U.S. remove all 28,500 troops from South Korea, a remarkable turnaround from the usual dramatics of the region.
The summit is promising, as it will allow Trump and Kim Jong Un to directly communicate with each other, instead of through surrogates and 3 a.m. tweets. What will come out of the summit is anybody’s guess, but having talks is better than starting a new war. The promise of a “denuclearized” Korean peninsula and the signaled end of the Korean War may be Trump’s crowning achievement.
One of the unsung successes of the Trump presidency is forcing the nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to be more responsible for their own defenses. Trump’s continued reluctance toward protecting our European allies has reduced their reliance on the U.S. to pay for their defense, making them increase military spending.
However, there have been more failures than successes. The continued threat of a trade war with China and our European allies has made the global economy uneasy, which also threatens to increase prices for American consumers and businesses. His policies on immigration have damaged our relationship with Africa, which is rapidly modernizing and appears to be the future of global economic development.
But what is most disappointing about Trump’s foreign policy is the continued interventions and escalations. American military assets still support Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, where thousands of civilians have been killed and millions more are facing famine and disease. The president has also escalated the war in Afghanistan, which I’ve argued we should end as it will only continue to shed American and Afghan blood for no good reason and goes against Trump’s initial instinct of withdrawal.
Trump’s missile strikes in Syria have contributed to the constitutional crisis of presidents ordering military action across the world without congressional approval. It has also continued the expansion of executive powers, which conservatives once railed against, but have now fully embraced in the age of Trump. Trump, who once spoke against Obama’s foreign conflicts without congressional approval, has now continued his legacy. Congress has the blame as well, for it has abdicated its responsibility of restraining the powers of the executive branch.
As Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) tweeted, “Each successive president ignores the Constitution and congressional leaders let it happen. We must elect a speaker who will defend the separation of powers and respect the American people.”
If there’s one word to sum up Trump’s foreign policy, it is this: contradictory. He has turned the world on its head in some positive ways, but for the most part, he has continued the interventionist policies of his predecessors while also dragging us into an economic slugfest with our allies and China. There are two more years of this presidency and so far, it does not look good.