Will the real Trump foreign policy please stand up?

By Amy Baker Benjamin
27 Nov, 2017

On a number of U.S. domestic issues (think, for example, immigration), Donald Trump has made his views abundantly clear. But when it comes to foreign policy he is a mass of confusion and self-contradiction. This should deeply concern those of us still trying to figure out how much moral support to lend him as he goes forward.

Donald Trump on stage

At times Mr. Trump sounds like a card-carrying member of the “American Exceptionalist Club” who believes that America is ...well... just plain better than any other country. His Inaugural Address painted the picture of an America that has selflessly shouldered the burden of empire for the benefit of mankind rather than herself. He has lectured the Cubans on how evil Castro was, continued the unprecedented build-up of NATO forces along Russia’s border, appointed a Secretary of State who believes that China should be denied access to her manufactured atolls in the South China Sea, and opined that the U.S. should have absconded with more of Iraq’s oil than it actually did when it drew down its occupation forces in that country.

At other times, however, Mr. Trump has made statements that suggest a belief that America has committed crimes against other nations or, at the very least, seriously overstepped the bounds of international propriety. In stunning remarks made recently on national television, he told Americans something they had never heard before from a sitting President: That their country has had its share of “killers” and was hardly innocent. Not even John Kennedy had dared utter such thoughts (though I suspect he may well have entertained them). Other hints of humility and, indeed, repentance, have come through in Trump's comments regarding NATO (it is obsolete); Russia (she should be gotten along with if at all possible); the Iraq War (it was wrongfully begun); and the “regime change” business (the U.S. should get out of it and lead by example instead).

So which is it, Mr. Trump: America The Good and Indispensable that needs to think of herself for a change, or America The Misguided and Hurtful that needs to think of others for a change? For now, in a seeming effort to buy time and keep the neo-conservative banshees at bay, Trump is trying to have it both ways. But this is plainly untenable; the two views cannot coherently co-exist. How he ultimately answers this question, both in his own heart and publicly, will likely determine the course of American foreign policy and world events in the years to come.

Amy Baker Benjamin is an alumna of Yale Law School and a lecturer in Public International Law at AUT.