Home/Daniel Larison/Judge Trump’s Foreign Policy by His Actions and Not His Words

Judge Trump’s Foreign Policy by His Actions and Not His Words

David Sanger makes the common mistake of taking Trump’s foreign policy rhetoric at face value:

He is demonstrating that in his pursuit of ending America’s “endless wars,” no American troop presence abroad is too small to escape his desire to terminate it.

The claim that Trump is engaged in a pursuit of ending endless wars would be a lot more credible if Sanger or anyone else could point to a single instance when Trump has actually ended U.S. involvement in a foreign war. To date, he has escalated every war he inherited, and the number of drone strikes in less than three years of his presidency far exceeds the number from the entire eight years of Obama’s. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Trump is not averse to using force, and he has sent more troops overseas since becoming president than he has brought back.

His on-again, off-again quasi-withdrawals from Syria are a perfect example of how he can’t quite bring himself to end our illegal military presence in another country. Withdrawing from Syria should be a lay-up for a president who genuinely wants to “get out.” The mission was never authorized by Congress, there is no international mandate for our military presence there, and there is no popular appetite for keeping U.S. troops in that country. Somehow it is almost 2020 and U.S. troops are still there. Trump’s determined effort to keep U.S. military support for the Saudi coalition going in the face of Congressional demands to cut off all weapons and assistance shows that he has no intention of “getting out” of that conflict. He is unwilling to follow through on what Kennan once called “a resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions.” Far from wanting to “get out” of our involvement in Yemen, Trump has tied himself and the U.S. as closely as possible to the belligerents that continue to bomb and starve that poor country.

Ben Friedman spotted the central flaw in Sanger’s analysis:

The only things that Trump ever wants to quit are the arms control treaties and nonproliferation agreements that stabilize relations with other states and make the world more secure. Otherwise, he escalates the shooting wars and launches one economic war after another. Trump “gets out” of the things he should stay in, and he stays in when he should get out.

Even this latest Syria decision doesn’t point to “getting out” of Syria so much as it shows how easily foreign governments can get Trump to alter U.S. policy to suit their interests. The president hopes to get credit for bringing troops home at the same time that he keeps them in open-ended, illegal missions for years to come, and he might get away with it if we paid attention only to what he said and not what was actually happening. Rep. Amash summed it up very well yesterday, and I’ll quote him again:

Trump professes to put American interests first, but frequently caters to the preferences of foreign governments at the expense of American interests. He claims to be ending endless wars, but he never ends any of them. We need to judge Trump by his actions and not his words, and if we don’t we will keep getting our analysis wrong.

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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