Home/Daniel Larison/Trump’s Foreign Policy and the 2019 SOTU

Trump’s Foreign Policy and the 2019 SOTU

Trump’s second State of the Union address was not very newsworthy. The president didn’t tell us much about his policies that we didn’t already know, and much of what he told us was wrong or misleading. The foreign policy section was expected to make up a large portion of the speech, but in the end Trump gave it cursory treatment. While it was a relatively short section, it was full of the usual distortions and reckless statements that we have come to expect.

Trump boasted about throwing more money at the Pentagon and touted his destabilizing decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty. He also celebrated his determination to waste even more money on missile defense technology that doesn’t work. Trump seemed to suggest that the U.S. would spend a lot more on our nuclear arsenal in the future:

Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can’t –in which case,we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.

This is typical of Trump’s feigned interest in diplomacy. He tears up a successful, existing treaty and then floats the possibility of replacing it with a much more ambitious agreement that will never happen. If his administration can’t even manage to resolve a dispute with Russia as part of a decades-old treaty, what are the chances that they will be able to construct an even larger treaty to take the place of the one they destroyed? Failing the negotiation of this fantastical grand bargain, he threatens a massive arms buildup instead.

Trump also talked about North Korea diplomacy:

As part of a bold new diplomacy, we continue our historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The main problem here is that the Trump administration has not been pushing for peace on the peninsula, but has instead been holding inter-Korean rapprochement hostage to a futile disarmament agenda that has gone nowhere for the last eight months. He credited his election with averting a war that no one thought could happen until he was elected and began threatening to start a war.

The president brought up his decision to interfere in Venezuela’s political crisis, and asserted that he had recognized the “legitimate government” of Venezuela. Leaving aside the weak justification for that recognition, Trump offered no explanation for how his imposition of cruel sanctions advance the Venezuelan people’s “noble quest for freedom,” and he said nothing about what the U.S. is prepared to do if Maduro refuses to yield to international pressure.

Trump cited recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as proof of his administration’s “principled realism,” but all that it showed was how deeply in hock to ideologues and hard-liners he is. As if to underscore how unprincipled and unrealistic his foreign policy truly is, Trump then said this about Iran and the nuclear deal:

To ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons, I withdrew the United States from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal.

And last fall, we put in place the toughest sanctions ever imposed on a country.

The president probably didn’t mean to call attention to how irrational and illegitimate his policies are, but he did that with these words. Withdrawing from the JCPOA undermines one of the most successful nonproliferation agreements, and it is only because that every other party to the agreement has upheld the deal that it has survived the president’s attempt at sabotage. No one who wants to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons would want to weaken or destroy the JCPOA, but Trump has made it one of his top priorities to do just that. To that end, he illegitimately reimposed sanctions that had been lifted as part of the deal in a gross violation of U.S. commitments, and he has the nerve to boast about his bad faith and deal-breaking.

The theme of Trump’s speech was “choosing greatness,” but in his foreign policy statements he laid out a series of policies that will serve to bankrupt and discredit the U.S.

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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