Home/Daniel Larison/The Trump Administration’s Dangerous Wishful Thinking

The Trump Administration’s Dangerous Wishful Thinking

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, President Trump and National Security Advisor John Bolton at the NATO Foreign Ministerial in Brussels, Belgium on July 12, 2018. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

An article in The Los Angeles Times on the administration’s foreign policy setbacks touches on a recurring theme in almost all of the president’s failed policies:

What we have seen in the Trump administration’s policy on Venezuela shows the limits of wishful thinking [bold mine-DL],” said Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, a nongovernmental research and advocacy group.

They have been completely unwilling to revise Plan A and instead are doubling down [bold mine-DL]” on a policy that appears to be failing, Ramsey said. “They think that if they saber-rattle hard enough, something will shake loose.”

The Trump administration’s most prominent foreign policy initiatives are all plagued by these same flaws: the goals are extremely ambitious, the means to achieve those goals are always woefully inadequate, and the president and his advisers are completely inflexible in the face of continued failure. The administration wants to force the surrender of North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran, and they think that “maximum pressure” will achieve that. The rigidity of the administration’s demands and their all-or-nothing approach in each case guarantee that the economic wars yield nothing but increased hardship for the people in these countries. Instead of adjusting their plans in the face of repeated failures, the administration keeps adding more sanctions and threats on the misguided assumption that more of the same will eventually get them the capitulation they desire. Increasing pressure predictably leads to the hardening of the other governments’ resistance, and that in turn leads to more pressure.

The danger in all three cases is that sooner or later it will become obvious even to Trump that “maximum pressure” doesn’t work, and that will give Bolton and other hard-liners the opening for military action that they have been craving in one or more of these countries. That makes the administration’s preference for wishful thinking even more alarming, because it is almost certain that they would approach the “planning” for a war with one or more of these countries in the same slapdash, incompetent way that they do everything else.

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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