When Mitt Romney ran for president in 2012, he promoted a foreign policy agenda that was justifiably labeled “omni-directional belligerence”*: he wanted more confrontation with any rival or adversarial state, and generally favored more hard-line policies across the board. I thought at the time that this made Romney’s foreign policy far too dangerous, and I still think that. Lucky for us, Romney lost, but much of what he represented in the GOP has survived and even flourished over the last four years.
Ever since he won the election, Trump has been following Romney’s lead, but has taken things even further than Romney recommended. Trump has not only picked a fight with China on more than one issue and made a point of antagonizing Iran, but has also snubbed neighbors and allies. Where Romney wanted more aggressive policies in every direction to counter perceived foes, Trump has managed to quarrel even with friendly governments without benefiting the U.S. in the least. Romney wrapped himself in the mantle of a peculiarly hawkish version of “American exceptionalism,” and Trump misleadingly defines his foreign policy as “America first,” but their instinct to antagonize and bully other nations is much the same. Both approaches share an aversion to diplomacy and compromise, they make a fetish of showing “strength,” and they are very eager to vilify and blame other states for things they haven’t done or for which they are not solely responsible. While they may draw on different traditions in Republican foreign policy, both default to bluster and aggression at the expense of advancing U.S. interests.
* This phrase was coined by Daragh McDowell.