Trump has no foreign policy but impulse By Fareed Zakaria


Three months ago, President Donald Trump suddenly withdrew US forces from northern Syria that were, in part, thwarting Iran’s efforts todominate the country, declaring, “Going into the Middle East is one of
the worst decisions ever made in the history of our country. It’s like
quicksand.” Well, last week he dramatically escalated America’s
engagement in the region, ordering a strike on Iran’s most
important leader and deploying thousands more troops. How to make sense of this Middle East policy?It gets more confusing. Around the same time that he was urgently
withdrawing US troops from what he called the “bloodstained sand” of
Syria, Trump sent 3,000 additional troops to Saudi Arabia. (When asked
why, he answered that the Saudis were paying good money for this
deployment.) And just a few weeks after announcing the Syria
withdrawal, he reversed himself and left some troops in the north “for
the oil.” All clear now?
After the killing last week of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani,
Trump warned that were Iran to attack “any Americans, or American
assets,” he would retaliate “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.” And yet after
Iran did attack two bases in Iraq hosting U.S. forces, Trump
essentially did nothing, announcing that Tehran “appears to be
standing down.” I’m glad Trump chose to deescalate, but that doesn’t
change the fact that he reversed himself yet again.

The problem with Trump’s foreign policy is not any specific action.
The killing of Soleimani could be justified as a way to respond to
Iranian provocations, but this move, like so much of Trump’s foreign
policy, was impulsive, reckless, unplanned and inconsistent — and as
usual, the chief impact is chaos and confusion. Trump did not bother
to coordinate with the government of Iraq, on whose territory the
attack was perpetrated. After the Iraqi government protested and
voiced a desire to have US troops leave Iraq, he threatened to
sanction the country and stay put until it paid the United States
billions of dollars for an air base.

The result: A policy that could well have produced a marked diminution
of Iran’s power might well trigger the withdrawal of US forces from
Iraq, which has been the chief Iranian objective in the region for
This is not an isolated instance. Trump began his policy toward North
Korea threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen” and
ridiculing leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man.” Soon he was declaring
his unabashed affection for Kim — “we fell in love” — and making
unprecedented concessions by meeting with the dictator three times.
Trump kept hoping for a deal and, despite every indication that Kim
was unwilling, kept up his one-sided love affair, minimizing the North
Korean regime’s record of almost-unsurpassed brutality and terror.

Trump had warned that if North Korea’s trajectory was not halted, the
world faced a dire situation, hinting of the dangers of a regional
conflagration. Well, North Korea continues on its path. In fact, Kim
recently promised to reveal a “new strategic weapon,” which hasn’t
elicited any concern or even response from Trump. Was he
hyperventilating then, or is he overly sanguine now?
Or consider China. Trump was right to take on Beijing’s illiberal
trade practices, and he promised to push the country to make real
reforms — such as ending or at least reducing its state subsidies to
domestic companies, its favorable regulatory treatment of local
businesses and its theft of intellectual property. He raised tariffs
and kept announcing that he would hold out for a big deal that got at
these issues. Then, suddenly, he announced a phase one agreement that
punts on most of them. Instead, the pact seems to be a familiar
“managed trade” deal in which Beijing promises to buy more American
goods. That is precisely what the Chinese had been willing to do from
the start, making it unclear why the United States had inflicted the
pain of tariffs — which are paid for by American consumers.
Trump does not have a foreign policy. He has a series of impulses —
isolationism, unilateralism, bellicosity — some of them contradictory.
One might surge at any particular moment, triggered usually by Trump’s
sense that he might look weak or foolish. They are often unleashed
without any consultation, and then his yes men line up to defend him,
supporting the president’s every move with North Korean-style
enthusiasm, no matter how incoherent.

The United States has made many mistakes in foreign policy. But over
the past several decades, it has by and large had a carefully
thought-through process of decision-making, involving consultation
with allies, and tried to maintain consistency and coherence in its
policy. That hard-won reputation is being squandered in arena after
arena around the globe.Zakaria writes from Abuja

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