John Glaser reviews Trump’s foreign policy record, and dismisses claims that it represents “retreat” from the world:
But it doesn’t accurately describe Trump’s foreign policy, which hasn’t backed away from any theater in which the US military was committed or engaged at the time of his inauguration. In some respects, Trump is more interventionist than his predecessors.
One of the many unfortunate consequences of the Bush era is that any foreign policy that is even slightly less aggressive than George W. Bush’s is now interpreted in Washington as “turning inwards,” “retreat,” “abdication of leadership,” and so forth. Obama presided over eight years of uninterrupted foreign wars, including at least two that he initiated without Congressional authorization, but he was supposedly engaged in a “retreat” from the world because his illegal wars of choice were smaller and less costly and because he didn’t ensnare the U.S. as deeply in every foreign conflict as his critics wished. Trump has continued involvement in every war he inherited from Obama, and in each case he has increased U.S. involvement, but because pundits and analysts don’t know how to make sense of his unilateralist militarism he is also accused of withdrawal and retreat.
These accusations aren’t true and require us to ignore what Obama and Trump have done while in office, but it is notable that these accusations keep being made. The preoccupation with imaginary “retreats” from the world is the flip side of the obsession with global “leadership.” If it is an article of faith in Washington that the U.S. “leadership” is “indispensable,” the only broadly accepted way in Washington to object to an administration’s foreign policy is to bemoan the president’s lack of “leadership,” whine about his lack of belief in “American exceptionalism,” and accuse him of some form of “isolationism.” These charges are typically false and the people making them usually know that they’re false, but they are extremely useful to interventionist critics of any president. The so-called “Blob” thrives on bashing presidents for their failure to “lead” and demanding that they “do something,” and the quickest way to box a president into taking the “action” they crave is to pretend that he is leading a general retreat.
Like the “isolationist” slur itself, they are bludgeons to be used against a president when his critics want him to be more aggressive generally or when they want a harder line on whichever adversary happens to be their target at the moment. The purpose of these accusations is never to describe accurately what a president does, but rather to badger him into endorsing the critic’s preferred policies. Every president presides over a very activist and hawkish foreign policy, but for many hard-liners and interventionists of different stripes it is never enough, and so they fault the authors of permanent war for withdrawing from the world in order to goad them into doing even more of the same.