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Trump’s Wasted Presidency

Stephen Walt regrets the wasted opportunity that Trump’s presidency has already been:

Yet there is an undeniably tragic quality to the Trump presidency, even if he manages to avoid impeachment, jail, or permanent disgrace. Why? Because Trump did have some valid and important insights into America’s current problems and he had a chance to do something about them when he got elected. That opportunity has been wasted, however, and Trump’s flaws as a politician, strategist, and human being are the main reason why.

There could have been an opportunity for a better, less meddlesome foreign policy after the 2016 election, but Trump was never going to deliver it. The problem is not just that Trump is deeply flawed in all the ways Walt mentions, but that his own views and those of the people he surrounded himself with were also equally flawed and wrongheaded. Trump occasionally said some things that sounded right, but on closer inspection Trump’s reasons for saying them were usually profoundly wrong. He rightly pointed out that the Iraq war cost trillions of dollars and gained the U.S. nothing, but his real complaint was that the U.S. should have “taken the oil” to make it worth our while. Trump sees everything in terms of zero-sum competition, but he thinks in the crudest mercenary terms of what we can take from others. That is the mindset of a pirate or a gangster, and it is obviously not going to produce sound foreign policy decisions.

It’s true that Trump called U.S. foreign a “complete and total disaster,” and many critics of our foreign policy were pleased to hear him say that, but on reflection we can see that he was just condemning almost everything that came before him without making any distinctions. He was happy to denounce previous wars, including ones he had supported earlier, because they had turned out badly and had become unpopular. He also denounced practically every diplomatic agreement made by previous administrations with no regard for whether the agreements were working or not. According to Trump, everything that preceded him was a bad deal or the worst deal of all time. That should tell us that he wasn’t ever offering any “insights” into anything, but was simply rejecting everything. In practice, Trump’s presidency has been defined by rejecting successful diplomatic agreements and repeating or continuing the other mistakes of his predecessors. That is why he has backed the Saudis and Emiratis to the hilt in Yemen in the continuation of our worst policy and now pursues regime change in at least two other countries. When push came to shove, Trump’s “insights,” such as they were, had nothing to do with how he actually approached foreign policy issues as president. Trump’s presidency is not tragic, but it is definitely a waste.

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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