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White House Memo: No Longer Held Back by His Advisers, Trump Puts His Imprint on Foreign Policy

“Year 1 of the Trump administration was a series of tough tweets and statements, but very little or restrained action,” said Heather A. Conley, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former State Department official under President George W. Bush.

“Year 2,” she added, “is a significant transition to action as the president not only feels more comfortable in taking unilateral decisions but grows confident that the more the so-called experts tell him it is the wrong thing to do, the more he is encouraged to take that exact step.”

That is not to say that Mr. Trump did not take actions in his first year that upended convention. Most prominently, he announced that he would withdraw the United States from two major international agreements negotiated by his predecessor President Barack Obama: the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and the Paris climate change accord.

White House Memo: No Longer Held Back by His Advisers, Trump Puts His Imprint on Foreign Policy
White House Memo: No Longer Held Back by His Advisers, Trump Puts His Imprint on Foreign Policy

Those moves sent a strong early signal of Mr. Trump’s rejection of multilateral diplomacy and the global integration favored for the most part by presidents of both parties in the generations since World War II. But neither had an immediate tangible effect. The trade pact had yet to be approved by Congress and, given opposition in both parties, might never have been. And the climate accord had yet to go into force and, under its cumbersome rules, the United States cannot technically withdraw until 2020.

Mr. Tillerson and other advisers were more concerned about the consequences of initiatives like moving the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem, which would alienate the Palestinians and undercut prospects for peace; ripping up Nafta, which has governed trade in North America for a quarter-century; or starting tariff wars, which could provoke retaliation and damage certain industries.

In many cases, Mr. Trump grudgingly acceded to their caution, delaying decisions while insisting he would not do so forever and demanding better options. But now he has grown impatient and more confident in his own judgment with a new team that reinforces rather than argues with his instincts.

“Bolton and Pompeo joining the team left Mattis isolated in arguing the Iran deal was working,” said James M. Goldgeier, a professor and former dean of international relations at American University.

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