Much of what Trump will do overseas is unknown. He has taken public positions on a few issues, but he has said little or nothing about most of the world. The miserable coverage of foreign policy in this election has helped ensure that he didn’t have to.
What we do know is that Trump has surrounded himself with hard-liners and authoritarians, and he is reportedly considering some of them for top Cabinet posts. A Trump administration that includes the likes of Giuliani, Gingrich, Flynn, and Bolton will certainly not be a restrained or realist one, and we can expect increased hostility towards Iran and anyone perceived to be aligned with them. Flynn is one of Trump’s earliest foreign policy advisers, and he co-authored a book with Michael Ledeen, one of the most fanatical Iran hawks of all. He and Ledden wrote this:
We’re in a global war, facing an enemy alliance that runs from Pyongyang, North Korea, to Havana, Cuba, and Caracas, Venezuela. Along the way, the alliance picks up radical Muslim countries and organizations such as Iran, al Qaeda, the Taliban and Islamic State.
This is the delusional thinking of someone who could very well be the next Secretary of Defense.
As I mentioned earlier this week, Gingrich, Giuliani, and Bolton have all been boosters of the totalitarian cult and “former” terrorist group, Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), which seeks to replace the current Iranian government with its cult leader. Trump has made denouncing the nuclear deal a major part of his indictment of Obama’s foreign policy, and Iran hawks in Congress will be eager to torpedo it. I have a hard time seeing Trump fighting to preserve a signature achievement of a president he loathes, and so it is more likely than not the nuclear deal is going to unravel. That will not only be a bad outcome in terms of nonproliferation, but it will also open the door to war with Iran that the deal at least temporarily closed.
One of the bigger challenges facing a Trump administration will be finding people willing to serve in it at lower levels. Many Republican foreign policy professionals have already gone on record opposing Trump’s election in the strongest terms, and it is doubtful that they would now be willing to work for him. Unlike other Republican presidents-elect, he will not be able to recruit from veterans of the last Republican administration. Since the last Republican administration was a disaster on foreign policy, that is not all bad news, but it does mean that lots of jobs are probably going to go unfilled for a while or will be filled by underqualified loyalists.
In broad strokes, a Trump foreign policy will probably be highly unilateralist, preoccupied with terrorism and Iran, and fixated mostly on the Middle East. In that sense, it won’t be as much of a radical departure as his supporters hope and his opponents fear, but it will mean continued U.S. entanglement in unnecessary wars for the foreseeable future. Our foreign policy was already overly obsessed with both terrorism and Iran and has relied on overly militarized responses, and I don’t see a Trump administration advised by the likes of Flynn and Bolton changing that anytime soon.