What will American foreign policy look like under President-Elect Donald Trump? Three government professors weighed in Nov. 10 at the weekly lecture of the Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies.
Elizabeth Sanders, whose research focuses on the institution of the U.S. presidency, noted that Trump is completely innocent when it comes to foreign relations. There is no record to observe. In Sanders’ view, we need to look at his potential advisers.
The foreign policy team that Trump announced last year, Sanders noted, included Walid Phares, J. Keith Kellogg Jr., Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Joseph Schmitz. These men are relatively unknown in American politics. When this shortlist was released, conservative magazine National Review called it a “bizarro” foreign policy team. Some of them have ties to Russian energy interests. Sanders believes the most concerning potential adviser is Phares, a Lebanese Christian militia leader. He was involved in the Sabra and Shatila massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in 1982, “for which he is a possible candidate for a war crime,” Sanders said. Phares moved to the United States and created anti-Muslim training videos for the New York City Police Department.
Trump’s signature foreign policy speech in April 2016 highlighted changes to immigration policy and American trade partnerships. Sanders found it promising that Trump criticized American wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. He said: “We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed. Civil war, religious fanaticism, thousands of Americans killed, many thousands of lives wasted – horribly wasted – many trillions of dollars lost as a result, and the vacuum was what created ISIS and let Iran rush in to fill the void.”
To Sanders, the greatest foreign policy concerns are Trump’s unpredictability, intense nationalism, lack of knowledge of world affairs, narrow and unconventional advisers, and lack of support for the Iran nuclear agreement and climate change pact. In addition, he has stated that he believes more nations should have their own nuclear weapons, does not respect foreign treaties and has advocated using tactics “worse than waterboarding to get information” from foreign suspects. At the same time, Trump has promised to be less interventionist and uninvolved in foreign regime change, while also promising to dramatically increase military spending. About 70 percent of campaign promises, Sanders said, become part of presidents’ platforms in office.
Mona Krewel, a visiting professor from Germany, discussed anticipated American relations with Europe. Trump has a realist approach that emphasizes individual nations at the expense of coalitions and alliances. Trump believes that Americans can get a better deal from our allies, so he has promised to require allies to pay the United States for continued protection.
It is clear, said Krewel, that Trump has a pronounced “America First” approach. He has stated that the Ukraine crisis is not an American problem. NATO will be weakened under President Trump, Krewel predicted, as will relations with the European Union. She calls this “the moment Putin is waiting for to expand.” Trump does not intend to come to the aid of Baltic and Eastern European states bordering Russia. He has called Brussels a “hellhole” – language which Krewel said will not do any good for foreign relations. Krewel fears the worst for Europe’s refugee crisis, because Trump believes in “walls and oceans.” She called Trump’s foreign policy “Make America Isolated Again.”
Jessica Weiss, associate professor of government, said the American people had elected a “know-nothing authoritarian in a fit of rage and resentment.” In Asia, Trump has expressed a desire to withdraw from commitments to protect South Korea and Japan. Opposition to trade agreements has been a hallmark of Trump’s campaign. He has promised to impose a 45 percent tax on Chinese imports and withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While Trump has criticized policies that allow American jobs to go overseas, he has outsourced jobs as a business owner and imported Chinese steel to build hotels, Weiss said.
Sanders credits Trump’s election partly to an election rule change made in 1972. With this change, control was taken away from party officials meeting in large conventions where huge assemblies of elected officials looked for the most stable, reliable and popular candidate in the party. The post-1972 system allowed activists to choose the nominees via primaries and caucuses in all 50 states. Trump was able to get around Republican leaders because he had enough of his own money to forego party donors to get started. The 1972 rule change allowed someone who has never held public office to win a major party nomination and run for president.
Amanda Bosworth, a Cornell doctoral student in history, is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle. This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.