Trump's Foreign Policy Disconnect


Since the end of the Second World War, promoting diplomacy and cooperation between states has been at the forefront of American foreign policy. From the creation of NATO to the Camp David Accords to the Good Friday Agreement, presidents and their administrations have seen the value in face-to-face conversation with allies and adversaries. While these talks do not always produce clear-cut solutions, there are benefits to diplomacy that drone strikes and bombs can never match. America has also understood the degree to which it can assist the rest of the world with vital clarity; the ‘superpower’ status that we gained at the end of the Cold War meant that the international order would only remain stable if we put in consistent effort to maintain it. Donald Trump’s foreign policy, lazily titled ‘America First,’ actually does nothing to put America first. America’s strength and resilience lies in its partnerships and the maintenance of peace between states. Arguing that we are better off alone is the best way for us to actually end up alone, and that would be catastrophic for us and for the rest of the world. But what foreign policy and diplomacy mean to the Trump administration is extremely unclear. The majority of positions in Trump’s State Department are empty, and this is alarming in a way that words cannot express. There is no Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, no Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration, and no Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security. Key positions are still unfilled in the fifth month of Trump’s presidency, which means aside from yelling at the Australian Prime Minister on the phone and boasting about the construction of the Panama Canal, no real diplomatic efforts to maintain alliances are underway, nor is there any active effort to build a State Department that can effectively wield what is left of American unipolarity. If this is an attempt to put America first, it is failing spectacularly. There are no circumstances in which foreign policy can simply be paused nor can the President himself be solely responsible for handling the fragile relations with many of the world’s nations. It is difficult to articulate just how dangerous it is for the U.S. to be so unprepared.

With the recent spike in terror attacks in Europe, one would assume that constructing a viable State Department would be at the top of Trump’s to-do list. Trump, however, seems to think that tweeting about his Electoral College victory is more important than, say, acknowledging the famines in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen, and by virtue of falling prey to clickbait, we as a nation seem to agree with him. Agricultural insecurity and famine breed civil unrest at an alarming rate, a large contributing factor to the rise of terror groups like ISIS and al-Shabaab, yet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seems more than fine with simultaneously slashing the State Department’s budget by around 30% and spending less of our GDP on official development assistance than Norway, Luxembourg, Ireland, or Japan spent in 2016. A key theme of the Trump administration’s foreign policy has been to harp on other nations for doing less, but the fact of the matter is we are not doing nearly enough either considering the assets at our disposal, and are in no position to point fingers.

Interventions in foreign crises have not always gone well for the U.S., so it is a reasonable assessment that the State Department would be reluctant to involve itself in the troubles of other states unless absolutely necessary. But we are not doing what we could do to help prevent these crises that does not involve direct intervention, either. Pulling out of the Paris Accords shows this administration’s lack of interest in combatting climate change and demonstrates a shortcoming in understanding just how famine, drought, and other outcomes of climate change fuel instability and civil unrest worldwide. We run the very real risk of unintentionally endangering ourselves if we do not address these concerns head-on by building an intelligent and dedicated State Department and giving international assistance the attention it deserves.

America will not be first if we continue to ignore our role on the global stage or misinterpret it in such a way that reduces the importance of alliances and diplomacy. We want to be seen as the most powerful country in the world as we so often claim to be, but without doing our part to prevent international crises, we will suffer the consequences. Our failure to pay more attention to the climate change-induced food shortages in Africa and the Middle East than to Trump’s tweet du jour will be our undoing; if we do not tackle problems at the start, we will pay the price in the form of increased terrorism, migration, and global unrest. If we do not bolster our State Department and act like the leader we claim to be, America will be first on only one list: irresponsibility.