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Trump’s Foreign Policy and the 2019 SOTU

Trump’s second State of the Union address [1] 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.

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6 Comments To "Trump’s Foreign Policy and the 2019 SOTU"

#1 Comment By Whine Merchant On February 6, 2019 @ 3:34 am

Thank you – I appreciate that Conservatives with a platform are not afraid to distance themselves from Trump. The “forever Trump” brigade is emotionally driven, cheering his wild swings at straw targets, but articles like this reassure us that reason, logic and facts still appeal to enough of us that we’re not going away.

#2 Comment By Sunset Grill On February 6, 2019 @ 7:17 am

Trump made his foreign policy problems worse by first hiring Pompeo and Bolton and then allowing them to contradict and overrule him. He has no “America First” foreign policy in part because he has no “America First” foreign policy advisors. Only neocon retreads.

So occasional “America First” noises aside, Trump’s actual foreign policy is even more completely dedicated to advancing the interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia than the one we had under Obama and Bush the Younger.

#3 Comment By Fulham Circile On February 6, 2019 @ 7:38 am

“he laid out a series of policies that will serve to bankrupt and discredit the U.S. “

And Bolton and Pompeo couldn’t be happier – neither could their patrons, Netanyahu and Muhammed bin Salman.

Bottom line: more wars and loads of cash for Israel and Saudi Arabia, no infrastructure for America, no end to the flood of immigrants, no wall for American border security.

Which means Schumer and Pelosi must be very happy too.

So as usual it’s win-win for the Establishment and the elites, and a big “fail” for regular Americans.

#4 Comment By SteveM On February 6, 2019 @ 7:41 am

Re: Trump, “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.”

What a stupid, stupid threat. This isn’t 1955 anymore where the U.S. had a clear and huge innovation dominance over a developed world whose industrial and academic R&D had been shattered by war. The advanced weapons systems displayed by Russia and China as well as Chinese companies like Huawei demonstrate that they can innovate with anybody. Moreover, with the advent of the internet and information sharing there is little knowledge that is not shared globally. Toss in the fact that China graduates 5x as many STEM professionals as the U.S. and we are looking at a perpetual arms race that nobody can win.

But of course the U.S. can outspend others by far. It always has – badly. Because its acquisition process is so systemically busted, platforms that actually make it to the field take 3x as long to develop and cost up to 10x more. To say nothing of the cost of the inventory of massive acquisition failures. The old Kalashnikov adage that the Perfect is the Enemy of the Good Enough is meaningless to the Pentagon and the Merchants of Death.

The War-Monger Hacks in the Pentagon and MIC must be rubbing their grubby hands in anticipatory delight. The revolving door will turn at light speed for Nitwit Generals like Mattis, Votel and Scaparrotti who fear-monger out the wazoo and then cash in. The only people threatened by Trump’s and Congress’s bellicose insanity are the taxpayers who have to pay for it.

This is nuts…

#5 Comment By TomG On February 6, 2019 @ 8:42 am

So well summarized, Mr. Larison! We seem to not only have perhaps the most overtly narcissistic president in history but also the most schizophrenic. No matter the wreckage, he claims everything he touches as beautiful.

#6 Comment By rayray On February 6, 2019 @ 10:53 am

@Sunset Grill
“Trump made his foreign policy problems worse by first hiring Pompeo and Bolton and then allowing them to contradict and overrule him.”

I am not convinced that Trump has anything resembling a coherent enough FP policy approach or set of principles that would lead to anything resembling a real argument with his advisors. They tell him that if he wants to look like a real man this is what he’ll do and he says awesome, that’s what I’ll do. And if he had real conflicts with them, he’d fire them. Like he has done over and over…