It only took a few months under Donald Trump’s presidency for the US to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, impose new sanctions on Russia, reverse the normalisation of diplomatic relations with Cuba, announce its intention to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, warn Pakistan, threaten Venezuela with military intervention, and declare a readiness to strike North Korea with ‘fire and fury … the likes of which this world has never seen before.’ The Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Israel are the only countries on better terms with the US since Trump’s arrival in the White House on 20 January.
Trump is not solely responsible for this increased tension: Republican neoconservatives, Democrats and the media all applauded him this spring when he ordered military manoeuvres in Asia and the launch of 59 missiles towards an air base in Syria (1). At the same time, he was prevented from acting when he broached a possible rapprochement with Moscow, and was even forced to sign off on new US sanctions against Russia. US foreign policy’s point of equilibrium is effectively being determined by Republican phobias (Iran, Cuba, Venezuela) often shared by Democrats, and by Democrat hatreds (Russia, Syria) endorsed by most Republicans. If there is a peace party in Washington, it’s currently well hidden.
US foreign policy’s point of equilibrium is effectively being determined by Republican phobias often shared by Democrats, and by Democrat hatreds endorsed by most Republicans.
Yet last year’s presidential debate suggested the electorate wanted to see an end to US imperial inclinations (2). Foreign policy issues were not initially on Trump’s campaign agenda, and when he did speak about them it was to suggest an approach mostly antithetical to that of the Washington establishment (the military, experts, think-tanks, specialist reviews) and to his current approach. He promised to subordinate geopolitical considerations to US economic interests, speaking both to supporters of economic nationalism (‘America First’) — there are many in states that have suffered economic devastation — and to those convinced it was time for realism after many years of continuous war that had led to stagnation and widespread chaos in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. ‘We would have been better off if we [had] never looked at the Middle East for the last 15 years,’ Trump said in April 2016 (3), condemning US ‘arrogance’ that caused ‘one disaster after another’ and cost‘thousands of American lives and many trillions of dollars.’
This diagnosis, unexpected from a Republican candidate, chimed with the view of the Democratic Party’s most progressive wing.