Trump’s Foreign Policy Report Card

The editors of the Wall Street Journal analyze President Trump’s foreign policy initiatives:

First, the good news: Mr. Trump signed a pair of Congressional bills that support Hong Kong’s cry of freedom. The signature showed that America is unified behind the autonomy that China guaranteed the territory in its treaty with Britain. Hong Kongers responded by waving American flags in the street in a reminder that the U.S. still represents the hope of liberty to millions around the world.

China huffed and puffed, with a Foreign Ministry factotum calling it “serious interference in China’s internal affairs and a serious violation of international law.” The audience for that bluster is the domestic Chinese public. The Communist Party needs to blame Hong Kong’s homegrown protests on outside interference lest citizens in the Mainland get the idea that they need more liberty too.

But note that China isn’t letting the Hong Kong bills interfere with trade negotiations with Mr. Trump. Chinese President Xi Jinping will agree to a trade deal that he thinks is in his interests no matter how many American flags are waving in Hong Kong. Mr. Trump can also follow a two-track strategy of negotiating a better trading relationship with China while representing American values by speaking up for freedom in Hong Kong and China.

Meanwhile, the bad news in North Korea is that Kim Jong Un is acting up again by firing missiles and reiterating a deadline of year’s end for a deal with Mr. Trump over its nuclear program. Mr. Kim wants to coax Mr. Trump into easing sanctions. The implication of these small-scale shows of military force is that Mr. Kim could resume firing intercontinental missiles that could hit the U.S. and make Mr. Trump’s claims of diplomatic progress look like a failure.

when you include Afghanistan, the not yet ratified trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, and the ongoing war in Syria, IMO the most optimistic possible assessment is an “Incomplete”. I suspect that the Chinese and North Koreans expect Trump to be gone in either 2020 or, at the latest, 2021 so I would not expect positive developments on those fronts in the foreseeable future.

There are some other negatives among which I would include support for the Saudi war against Yemen. On the positive side DAESH’s caliphate is no more and DAESH itself is much diminished. See also the report from the Council on Foreign Relations, which gives him an overall D+.

Disruption is hard.

18 comments… add one
  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    We will have to see.

    The missing positive is what has not happened. Trump is likely to not have not started or seriously escalated a war of choice in his first term.

    The previous 2 and arguably 4 presidents did so “not” doing is very hard.

  • Yes, thank you. I’d intended to mention that as a positive. By this point in his presidency Obama had already started a war, the effects of which are still apparent.

  • steve Link

    I agree that he should get credit for not starting a new war yet, but he has set the stage for another one with troop deployments to KSA and backing out of the nuclear deal with Iran. (Of note, the Council on Foreign Relations gives him high marks for giving KSA and Israel just about everything they want.) He also hasn’t done much of anything about the immigration problem. D+ is probably about correct.


  • jan Link

    Some extra foreign policy bullet points:

    Trump has been the 1st president in 40 years not to have started a new war, like Curious mentioned

    NATO is more financially engaged with paying it’s fair share.

    NK continues to “act out” but has not gone to war, as President Obama predicted they would, during Trump’s term in office.

    A spot light has been shone on China’s aggressive trade practices which was incrementally destroying manufacturing and the US middle class. If you listen to either Gordon Chang or Michael Pillsbury, they have both been encouraged by this president’s decision to finally challenge China, rather than ignore grievances like past R and D presidencies have done, which some say will have long term, positive global ramifications.

    Ukraine was being given more military financial aid, before the arrival of yet another attempt to discredit and impeach the president. Aid to other countries has also been re-examined. The Pentagon even underwent an overdue audit, checking out it’s expenditures!

    The USMCA is incomplete only because the Speaker has deliberately delayed bringing it up for a vote.

    Immigration and border security has become an even greater political football for the opposition party to hold over the country. There have been starts, followed by overreaching judicial stops, impeding significant progress, with the exception of diplomatic progress being made with Central American stemming the flow of caravans – this being done only through the efforts of the presidency, not the dem-held congress.

    I personally believe that the colossal amount of obstacles, resistance and noxious actions of the opposition party to dismember Trump’s presidency, at any cost, has poisoned or completely negated other foreign policies from being advanced. The toxic brew of irrational, unreasonable, throwing tack strips on any possibility of policy success is what we have now cultivated among a coalition of establishment bureaucrats and diehards currently clinging to the helm of our governance.

  • jan Link

    The Iran Deal was a paper tiger in stopping Iran from funding and propagating more terrorism around the world, and eventually becoming an unrestrained nuclear power. All the “Deal” really accomplished – one that couldn’t be correctly ratified as a treaty – was to monetize enemies so they could proceed with long range ambitions of power and ME dominance.

    Also, the past administration did nothing during the 2009 Iranian uprising to support the millions of people wanting to free themselves from the Mullah’s harness of suppression. This president, though, has been vocally supportive in Venezuela, HK, and supposedly behind the scenes in the newest unrest being hushed up in Iran.

  • steve Link

    “NATO is more financially engaged with paying it’s fair share.”

    They are paying at the same rates they promised before Trump was POTUS. Trump is great at taking credit for what others did.

    “NK continues to “act out” but has not gone to war, as President Obama predicted they would, during Trump’s term in office.

    I can find no such prediction. What I can find is Trump claiming that Obama was going to go to war.

    “Ukraine was being given more military financial aid”

    Congress voted for it. Trump held it up.

    “The USMCA is incomplete only because the Speaker has deliberately delayed bringing it up for a vote.”

    When Obama couldn’t get Congress to sign something it was because he didnt know how to make a deal. Now that Trump is POTUS it is because Dems won’t pass it. Hmmm. Double standards much?

    Immigration, blah, blah, blah- As I said, he hasn’t done much. I predict he won’t do much either. He will stick with the stupid wall idea, unwilling to consider anything else. Stuff that might actually work.

    “I personally believe that the colossal amount of obstacles, resistance and noxious actions of the opposition party to dismember Trump’s presidency, at any cost, has poisoned or completely negated other foreign policies from being advanced.”

    And the Republicans worked with Obama? LOL. Again, you guys claimed Obama couldn’t get it done because he was a naif, incompetent or something. Heck, Boehner couldn’t even get his Republicans to agree with each other on anything, except opposing Obama. Now Trump faces the same thing and you guys are whining away.

    ” All the “Deal” really accomplished”- Was to remove plutonium from Iran and guarantee they would have no nukes for 10 years. Lets compare that with the deal Trump has made with North Korea.


  • Greyshambler Link

    Trump is clearly not anxious to go to war. I like that a lot. It’s always possible he could be perceived as weak by adversaries but there are no advantages to military attacks on US positions or allies. War is now more economic in nature.

  • jan Link

    I’m posting an interview with presidential historian, Doug Wead by OAN, dealing with his newly released book on President Trump. It gives a perspective, discussing Trump’s style and accomplishments, in a far different way than most people do. No one has to agree with Wead. However, it is refreshing to change the tone a bit when talking about the man currently occupying the WH. It’s also interesting to note that Wead and his family have received the only death threats in his writing career by people who didn’t want him to publish this book.

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    Re the Middle East. Trump may have set the stage for the next war, or delayed it for a long time.

    Almost unnoticed in the US, but Iran had serious internal unrest due to the economy. Meanwhile, Iraq, a country that is critical to Iran’s “present” project, Shiite protestors burned multiple Iranian consulates over Iranian meddling. And one of their most powerful cards — a disruption to global oil supplies, turned up empty when oil prices went back to $50 after the drone strike and Trump didn’t strike back.

    Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is making nice with Qatar, whom it had previously tried to ostracize — due in no part from Trump refusing to strike at the Iranians for the drone attack and their own failures in Yemen. The Saudi focus is on economic development, e.g. the delayed Aramco IPO is about to go.

    And in Israel is slowly moving on from the Netanyahu era.

    Universal peace is not about to break out — but the incentives for most of the powers in the region is lowering tensions so they can focus on fixing internal unrest.

  • jan Link

    IMO, Trump seems to deal heavily in incentives and disincentives to change behavior and/or get what he wants. In getting a hostage released from Turkey, he squeezed their economy, rather than pay ransom like his japredecessor did for Iran’s hostages. To Be able to converse with NK, staving off a war for now, he introduced a picture of how NK could achieve more prosperity if they cooperated with the US. He speaks nice about China’s President, but is challenging their economy and supply chains via tariffs.

    Trump zigs and zags along encouraging the ME to build up their economies, modernize their cultures, stand by their people and shun terrorist countries. He’s helped Ukraine by supplying armaments that have been long requested and not granted under Obama’s presidency. The funds this year were held back less than 2 months, while more monies were actually added for military expenditures. Poland loves his audacity. The UK seems bent on electing Boris Johnson, who seems like a British twin of his, carrying out the people’s Brexit mandate, much like the deplorable little people wanted someone to rebuild their lives in the rust belt.

    Oh yes, Steve, a mere $100 billion more NATO dollars has been collected since the Obama’s presidency ended. Obama may have asked, but never received more money from NATO members.

  • steve Link

    Read is not a historian. He has no formal training in the field. He is a conservative pundit and a writer. He makes no pretense about any attempt at objectivity like you would usually see in an real historian. (Words should mean something. Just writing about presidents you like doesn’t make you a historian.)


  • Guarneri Link

    The irony…

  • bob sykes Link

    I give him an I across the board and a F in Syria.

    As far as Daesh is concerned, they are (not were) Turkey’s proxy in its war against Assad. Turkey allowed Daesh free access to Turkish territory and ports. Turkey allowed Daesh to import tens of thousands of fighters and thousands of tons of munitions. Turkey provided medical care to Daesh wounded in Turkey. They allowed, for a fee to Erdogan’s family, Daesh to export and sell Syrian oil.

    It might also be noted that the two Daesh leaders who were recently killed were living more or less openly in Turkish controlled Idlib.

    The US connived in all this. The US did not oppose Daesh until it got the wakeup call when Daesh invaded Iraq and captured Mosel. Conspicuously, America forces were ordered not to attack the oil convoys, and America provided close air support to Daesh fighters engaged with Assad’s forces. Daesh was allowed to evacuate Raqqah unmolested and move downstream close to US forces, apparently for protection.

    You might note that the Kurds also ignored or tolerated Daesh, as long as it was attacking Assad’s forces. The Kurds did not engage Daesh in either Syria or Iraq unless Daesh attacked Kurdish territory, which was seldom.

    The destruction of Daesh is by and large the doing of Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran. Give zero credit to the US for that. Give the US a very big minus for conniving with Daesh.

    You might also note that the recent fabricated “scandal” of Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds resulted in all the major players getting what they want:

    1. The US repositioned and reinforced its forces (with a mechanized NG battalion) and seized the Syrian oil fields for itself. This was Paul Wolfowitz’s plan for both Iraq and Syria. He proposed we sell the oil to finance our invasion.

    By the way, how much Iraqi oil do we control, and has diversion of Iraqi oil to finance American operations contributed to the unrest there, thousands wounded and a few hundred killed. Of course their all Iranian supporters, so who cares.

    2. Turkey got control of the Syria border and the expulsion of the YPG from the border region.

    3. Assad got the nominal submission of the Kurds and nominal control of most of Syria.

    4. Russia expanded it bases, increased the indebtedness of the Turks to it, and enhanced its reputation.

    That clearly looks lie a four-way negotiated settlement. The Kurds and Daesh got the dirty end of the stick, and nobody cares.

  • jan Link

    Steve, all I can do is sigh when I read your judgement calls of those who disagree or dare espouse a perspective contradicting the democrat narrative you support.

    I never really thought a writer had to be “formally trained” in order to be considered an authentic, believable writer, thus giving his observations some kind of sterling credence for people like you. Yes, engineers, rocket scientists, MDs need such training. But, some skill sets by-pass the formal training process and blossom under more natural circumstances, such as innate curiosity, intelligence, common sense and even wisdom. Benjamin Franklin had only a 2nd grade education, and yet had quite an outstanding historical influence. Steve Jobs crashed into the tech world without a college degree, creating Apple. Doug Wead, in the same vein, has been given unfettered access to 6 presidencies involving both major parties, exploring, documenting (not via anonymous sources or here say) which have produced well received books, along with a plethora of additional non-fiction publications over a 40 plus year span of time. Like Victor Davis Hansen, I find his observations educational, if not illuminating. The interview posted was also low-key, not high brow, rendering a more overall and generous look into a presidency that has received over 90% negative reporting, from a press intent on accentuating the bad while either minimizing or completely disregarding anything positive generated from this president. Wead’s insights simply brushed the weeds of 24/7 criticism and misinformation aside, writing another version related to the underpinnings of Trump’s controversial, disruptive presidency.

    Finally, words do mean something. However, they’re not required to have an establishment or politically correct stamp of approval to be considered historically worthwhile, having honest appraisals, creating viable accounts for public consumption.

  • steve Link

    Wead is openly conservative. He has run for office as a conservative. He write books about presidents, with a conservative POV, that sell well amongst conservatives. That is not what a historian does. VDH is the same way, so of course you like both of them. I find it useful to sample what they write so that I know what conservatives believe, but not with the idea that there will be any objectivity in their writings. Also, yes, there are lots of historical examples of people like Adam Smith being an economist before there was such a profession, but in the modern era if you want to be called a historian then you should have the expected training, or behave like other historians. This guy should have a trail of peer reviewed articles where other historians can look at his methods. That trail doesnt exist. (One of my favorite health care economists started out getting his PhD in physics from MIT, then changed over to economics, but he works in an economics department and publishes in economic journals where he is peer reviewed. Good mathematician.)

    One of the differences between us is that you cite these conservative hacks as objective truth writers. I dont do that. You won’t see me citing Michael Moore as an objective film maker on presidential history.


  • Guarneri Link

    “He write books about presidents, with a conservative POV, that sell well amongst conservatives. That is not what a historian does. “

    Thanks for the belly laugh.

  • jan Link

    Steve, many if not most historians are influenced by their own liberal/conservative tendencies. For instance, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., is considered an iconic historian, who was mainly interested in the history of American liberalism. Consequently, his take on FDR’s handling of the Great Depression is much more glorious than let’s say Amity Shlaes critique of how this extended time of depression was handled, in her book, The Forgotten Man. I’m sure Shlaes’s recent historical tome will also show a more critical aspect to LBJ’s social policies, in her Great Society book, than another historian would with a liberal bent to their writing. However, IMO, such liberal/conservative POVs add to narratives, providing contrasting flavors to the same subject matter, and create a well rounded, fuller discussion of events or people involved in those events.

    Consequently, I think pigeonholing and being dismissive of a well-known American historian, because you sense a partisan glaze on their words, is more reflective of the reader’s own confirmation bias than a fair analysis of a writer’s credentials or profession standing as an historian.

  • steve Link

    “Consequently, I think pigeonholing and being dismissive of a well-known American historian”

    Nope. I understand quite well that many historians write with a bent towards one side or another, but they write history that is at least peer reviewed and published in history journals. What Wead writes is infotainment written specifically for half of the nation. You consider him a historian since you wish to give him the veneer of objectivity and academic rigor. He is really just a slightly more sophisticated Bill O”Reilly, whom I am sure you also consider a historian.

    Shlaes also does not publish in history journals. She is a journalist who writes columns and some books, largely on economic issues. She often looks at historical events, mostly trying to apply it to current events. If writing about the past is all it takes to be a historian, then everyone at this site is a historian. The word is meaningless.


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