Walter Russell Mead celebrates Trump’s invincible ignorance:

There is no sign Mr. Trump can or will be persuaded to reconsider his approach. He does not believe existing arms treaties serve American interests; his withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty was motivated by the same considerations that drove his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

Mead’s pairing of Trump’s move to kill the INF Treaty with his decision to renege on the nuclear deal unwittingly make both of the president’s actions look much worse than either would on its own. Trump can use Russian violations of the INF Treaty to excuse withdrawal from that treaty, but Iran has adhered to the JCPOA for three years straight. There is no face-saving excuse for withdrawing from the JCPOA. The only reason to do that is to undermine a successful nonproliferation agreement in the hopes of creating a crisis with Iran. If the president was “motivated by the same considerations” in both cases, his complaints about Russian violations are just window dressing for destroying an arms control treaty that his National Security Advisor has loathed for decades.

In both cases, the U.S. is put at a disadvantage by walking away from successful agreements. Quitting the INF Treaty frees Russia from any constraints in this area, and it effectively gives them a pass on their past violations. Reneging on the JCPOA squanders goodwill with allies, puts the U.S. at odds with most other states, and makes it much harder for any other government to trust ours to honor its agreements. Short-sighted unilateralism a la Bolton has been and continues to be a curse on the United States, and as long as Trump conducts foreign policy in this way he will keep harming U.S. interests through irrational acts of spite. He won’t be persuaded to change his approach because he is determined to ignore all evidence that would help him to change course.

Mead’s larger argument is that Trump is “in control” on foreign policy. That is questionable when it seems that Bolton is the one who is more often running the show, but the more important point is that Trump’s policies are faltering or failing on their own terms. If we grant these he is in some sense “in control,” he is also one of the least successful foreign policy presidents of modern times. Iran is not collapsing, nor is it making any concessions, and it certainly isn’t returning to the negotiating table. The president is inflicting collective punishment on eighty million people for no good reason. North Korea isn’t disarming, no matter how many pointless summits the president attends. Trump can’t even see through the withdrawal of a small number of troops from Syria without being outmaneuvered by his own advisers. Every signature policy that Trump has made his own isn’t delivering the intended results, and his mismanagement of the policies he inherited adds to his failures.

Advertisement