Trump’s Foreign Policy Explained

Trump’s Foreign Policy Explained

Donald Trump hasn’t been sworn into office yet and already his foreign policy moves are causing consternation among the Washington foreign policy and defense establishment. In fact, his most fervent critics don’t give him credit for having a set “policy” at all, but rather accuse him of aimless incompetence. The more conspiratorially inclined might even suggest that some of his pro-Russia moves flow from double dealing, given apparent Russian involvement in the election. Yet if we presume Mr. Trump knows what he is doing (a big if for some!) – there is an explanation that is both strategically defensible and even handed. It could be that Mr. Trump views China as our foremost rival, and views Russia as a more natural ally in that rivalry.

The firestorm began when Trump accepted a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan after his election, breaking with decades of prior practice of not engaging in official diplomatic communiques with Taiwan. While Beijing was muted in its response, official Washington was aghast at Trump’s “faux-paus,” many wondering aloud if the President-Elect wasn’t aware of our “one-China” policy. It was later revealed that the move was purposeful, and the product of months of preparation. The President-elect doubled down this past weekend while appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” saying “I fully understand the ‘one China’ policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘one China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.”

Mr. Trump has also received criticism for several of his appointee’s pro-Russia views. First for having named General Michael Flynn, a fierce ISIS critic who views Russia as an ally against the Islamists, as national security advisor designee. And more recently by nominating Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exon-Mobile who is said to have “deep ties to Vladimir Putin,” as his Secretary of State. If personnel is policy, these twin moves suggest Mr. Trump aspires to have a tighter relationship with Russia.

Taken together, it could be that Mr. Trump is just a bull in a china shop (excuse the pun) with no foreign policy experience and a desire to do Putin a solid for having helped him get elected. But it’s far more likely that this is part of a coherent plan by the President elect to realign US foreign policy away from China and toward Russia. What would be the reasons for doing so?

Add in nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula, and our trade and military interests in the Pacific Rim and it’s easy to see why Mr. Trump might see there is potential for our long term interests to be adverse to those of the Chinese. Stated differently – it’s much more important that South Korea and Japan remain in our sphere of influence than the prospect of Ukraine or Estonia moving into our sphere.

It also bears noting that Russia is a more reliable ally than China in the war against ISIS. Russia is presently engaged with ISIS in Syria, and faces the threat of radical Islamism in its frontier provinces. If Trump views the world not through an “end of history” uni-polar lens, but rather as a tri-polar “clash of civilizations” in which Russia is a more natural ally against ISIS and a rising China all of his moves make sense.