Trump's Foreign Policy Up For Grabs

President Trump came into office promising big disruptive changes in the way America defined its role in the world. American foreign policy would no longer be aspirational — it would be transactional. "What's in it for us?" would guide the new "America First" approach. Human rights? Downgraded. America as an idea, a beacon of freedom to tired, huddled masses? Been there, done that. Promoting democratic values as a way to strengthen America's own economic and national security? Nope. Trump just didn't see the connection.

But as the new president is finding out, things happen. Chemical weapons are used. And the world's greatest superpower has to respond.

Here are some examples of how Trump's approach to the world is changing.

1. Syria

The president claims to be very flexible and not rooted in a particular approach, but on Syria he had been remarkably consistent.

For years Trump had argued that Syria wasn't our fight. He repeatedly criticized Obama — not just for drawing a red line and then erasing it but for considering intervening in Syria at all.

In just 48 hours, he has done a 180-degree flip on his position.

2. China

Trump's actions in Syria also raise questions about his policy in China, which had already been shifting. White House officials are suggesting that the airstrike in Syria should send a cautionary message to North Korea that Trump is willing to take action there, too. Just this week Trump acknowledged that he has a responsibility for that country's nuclear problem.

Trump attacked China relentlessly during the campaign. But since he has been in the White House he's been acting more like his predecessors.

3. Mexico

Trump promised he would renegotiate NAFTA. So far he is proposing only tweaks. And he hasn't found a way yet to force Mexico to pay for the border wall, one of the trademark initiatives of his presidential campaign.

4. The Middle East

The president flirted with dropping the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution. He has since backed off that and has reaffirmed his predecessor's policy on settlements, saying they aren't very helpful. And he hasn't yet moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem as he had promised.

5. The European Union

The president once praised Brexit and predicted other countries would follow the United Kingdom. He disparaged the European Union as nothing more than "a vehicle for Germany." But in a recent interview with the Financial Times, he agreed the center seemed to be holding in Europe and that the EU was "doing a better job."

6. The National Security Council

This week Steve Bannon, the president's top strategist, was removed from the principals committee of the National Security Council. Bannon, the architect of the president's overarching "America First" policy, was the first political adviser ever to be given a seat on the committee.

Bannon's removal shows that Trump's new national security adviser, H.R. McMaster — a foreign policy professional and one of several establishment figures in the new administration — is taking control. It is another sign that Trump's foreign policy process is getting a little more conventional.

Yes, Trump's action in Syria appears to be a departure from his "America First" policy of nonintervention. But without an overall strategy and with many unanswered questions — including what this means for Russia and ISIS — Trump appears to have found himself in the same box that Obama did, with all the same frustrations and limitations (and crossed lines!).


  • Despite U.S. missile barrage, Syria continues airstrikes against rebels
    Smoke billows following a reported airstrike Saturday on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa. (Mohamad Abazeed/AFP/Getty Images)
    BEIRUT — Residents of the Syrian town devastated by a chemical weapons attack earlier this week said warplanes had returned to bomb them Saturday, despite a U.S. missile barrage and warnings of possible further response.

    At least 86 people in the northwestern town of Khan Sheikhoun were killed Tuesday in a chemical attack that left hundreds choking, fitting or foaming at the mouth. Eyewitnesses and a monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Saturday that fresh attacks on the area — now a virtual ghost town — had killed one woman and wounded several others.
  • I think if Assad did not use chemical bomb (sarin) to attack civilians, President Trump would not have bothered--as he had been saying all along. It's amazing how a smart person like Assad miscalculated Trump. He probably assumed that Trump would be like former President Obama who drew the red line on the sand, saying that using chemical attack would be met with strong American reaction but it never did. So Trump's action is small, measured and simply to convey a message. We'll see if Assad or any other dictator would use chemical attack on their people. Trump is willing to let the people handle their politics and their leaders. But international conventions prevent use of chemical attack on civilians--so Trump did the right thing to send this message across the world.
  • Putin and Assad could careless what Trump does. Who is really doing what? Part of the deal that saved Assad after 2013 chemical attack was for Russia to ensure complete removal of Syrians chemical weapons. Is Russia complicit in what took place? Did Syria get the ok to use the chemical..and if so, who provided such. Or perhaps Russia intentionally violated the agreement by allowing Syria to keep some...

    But why make a small scale chemical attack if u were knowingly going to break an agreement brokered by your closest friend-Russia? Who benefits internationally and temporarily by lauching such an attack? Assad? Putin? Or Trump?
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