Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

Trump vs. Foreign Policy Restraint

Trump has given us many reasons to assume he isn't in favor of foreign policy restraint.

Barry Posen doesn’t see any evidence of foreign policy restraint in the incoming administration:

It does not look to me as if this is a ‘eureka’ moment for the “Restraint” strategy. Instead, this looks a bit like hegemony without liberalism. President-elect Trump has promised to increase U.S. military spending. This is not consistent with Restraint. His appointees seem to be people who wish to militarily confront those states and groups who challenge the U.S. in any way. China and Iran seem to be at the head of the list. Some of his appointees seem hostile to Russia as well. The President-elect seems to wish to do something more aggressive vis-a-vis Al Qaeda and ISIL than the outgoing administration. It is hard to see how this many military confrontations would be consistent with Restraint. With this many under-thought confrontations underway, it is likely that one or more will go awry.

That seems exactly right. I would just add that Trump has never given us a good reason to think that he would be in favor of restraint, and he has given us many reasons to assume he isn’t. Not only is he surrounding himself with hard-liners that want more aggressive policies across the board, but at no time has he explicitly called for reducing U.S. military deployments anywhere in the world. He clearly isn’t interested in reducing military spending, and that is one of the appealing features and benefits of a strategy of restraint. Last year, his nominee for Secretary of Defense dismissed Obama’s criticism of Gulf client states as “free-riders”: “For a sitting U.S. president to see our allies as free riders is nuts.” If we are to believe what Flynn and Ledeen said in their book, Trump’s main adviser imagines that we are engaged in a prolonged global war that could last generations. One could scarcely have a worldview less sympathetic to restraint than that, and that is the view of one of the most influential people in the new administration. Finally, there are no ongoing wars that Trump has said the U.S. should stop fighting, and he has committed to escalating one of them.

Posen concludes:

The costs will mount, and future administrations will find they have even less public support for a forward grand strategy. This is how I imagine the U.S. could ultimately shift to a more restrained grand strategy.



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