Home/Daniel Larison/A Foreign Policy Pivot? I Wouldn’t Bet On It

A Foreign Policy Pivot? I Wouldn’t Bet On It

Tom Wright makes the case that Trump is about to make a “foreign policy pivot”:

Trump wants to write a new chapter, closing the one marked “Militarism and Maximum Pressure” and opening one called “Dealmaking and the Pursuit of the Nobel Peace Prize.” He wants a summit with Iran’s leaders and deals with the Taliban, Kim Jong Un, and Vladimir Putin on arms control. He does not care about most of the details, as long as he gets the credit.

Few of his officials are particularly enthusiastic about this pivot, but led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, they accept it and will seek to shape it.

The pivot metaphor has been used many times during Trump’s presidency to describe an impending change in direction, but the pivots never seem to take place. Like the expectation that Trump will eventually grow and learn while in office, the expectation that the president will become more responsible in his policies is always disappointed. It would make sense for Trump to deescalate tensions with Iran after creating the current crisis, but I see no evidence that he really intends to do this. Trump absolutely should extend New START, and without Bolton acting as an anti-arms control gremlin he could do this, but there has been no sign of interest in keeping the treaty alive. Trump should conclude negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan, but he just blew up the negotiations earlier this week. Negotiating with Iran requires ending “maximum pressure,” but so far the post-Bolton line from the administration is that “maximum pressure” isn’t going anywhere:

The United State is still pursuing a campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Thursday, days after U.S. President Donald Trump’s hard-line national security adviser left the White House.

Mnuchin, in an interview on CNBC, also said that as of now there is no plan for Trump to meet with Iran President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month, although he reiterated that Trump was open to meeting Rouhani with no preconditions.

The president may want glitzy meetings, and he may want to create the illusion that he is having diplomatic success, but as I said after his Afghanistan debacle just a few days ago “he doesn’t have the concentration or discipline to complete any diplomatic initiative.” There is no question that he wants the credit, but he cares more about getting the credit than he does about securing the agreement. The president’s vanity kills diplomacy. As we just saw with his on-again, off-again meeting with the Taliban, if Trump doesn’t get to put on his self-aggrandizing show he would prefer to sink painstaking negotiations to end America’s longest war. If Trump is trying to pivot to “dealmaking,” he got off to a remarkably lousy start by killing the Afghanistan negotiations for no good reason.

Could this change over the coming year? I suppose anything’s possible, and Wright has spoken to current and former officials who agree that “the Trump pivot is real.” I find it hard to believe that there will be any such “pivot” because Trump is a terrible negotiator who doesn’t understand diplomacy and has shown no willingness to compromise. It also seems unlikely to produce any positive results because the president has almost run out of time. He wasted almost three years indulging hard-liners on most issues, and in the process he has angered and alienated the foreign governments whose cooperation he would need to reach agreements. Maybe Trump does want to change direction, but he will find that he has burned too many bridges over the first three years. The more desperate the president seems in wanting to get something, anything, before the election that he can claim as a success, the less likely it is that he will be able to make a deal with anyone.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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