President Trump’s militaristic approach to foreign policy has been a welcome break from his isolationist campaign talk: his apparent realization that Syria must be confronted over its use of chemical weapons, that North Korea must be stopped in its tracks before developing the capacity to strike the United States – all of it was a shift in the right direction.
Then, this week, President Trump has backtracked.
On Tuesday, Trump’s State Department announced that Iran had been holding by its commitments under President Obama’s despicable nuclear deal with the terrorist regime. According to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson:
The U.S. Department of State certified to U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan today that Iran is compliant through April 18th with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action however, the Secretary also raised concerns about Iran’s role as a state sponsor of terrorism and alerted Congress to an effort directed by the President to evaluate whether continuing to lift sanctions would be in U.S. national security interests.
This effectively kicks the can down the road. But Iran has been increasing its funding for terrorism, testing ballistic missiles, and yes, violating the nuclear deal from nearly the outset. Why is the Trump administration complying with the foolishness of delaying action against the Iranian regime? Perhaps because there remains a serious split in thinking from the Trump administration regarding the role of Iran in the Middle East. Is Iran a nefarious force that requires confronting from the United States? Or is Iran just another player in a chaotic region we would be best off ignoring? That remains an open question, obviously, for the Trump State Department.
Meanwhile, after Turkish would-be dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan narrowly rammed through a referendum essentially destroying Turkey’s century-long experiment in secular Islamic democracy, the Trump administration called to congratulate him. Before the vote, Erdogan’s government cracked down on the opposition, particularly in the media. According to Erdogan, Trump personally called him to congratulate him on the referendum victory.
What is Trump thinking? Erdogan is an Islamist through and through, a radical sponsor of an anti-Western worldview who seeks to break the European Union from within. But perhaps Trump thinks that he’s better off flattering Erdogan in the vain hope that Erdogan will do more to fight ISIS. If so, he’s betting on Iran the same way he’s betting on Turkey, to the detriment of both countries and global security.
But Trump’s bad foreign policy week didn’t end there.
Reiterating that he is not a fan of the North Atlantic Treat Organization (NATO), despite his recent claims to the contrary, Trump stated in Wisconsin on Tuesday that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan ought to pressure NATO again to spend more money. Trump bragged, “Paul, you’re over with NATO, get them to pay their bills.” This is the sort of diplomacy best left to closed-door negotiations, but Trump puts that out there at the same time that Turkey is undermining NATO from within and Vladimir Putin is undermining NATO from without.
All of this speaks to the radical disconnect in Trump’s thinking on foreign policy. It underscores that Trump’s shift has not been one of worldview, but one of convenience – at least for now. We can hope that Trump’s recent actions demonstrate a new understanding of America’s need for a muscular role in global politics, but he’s still pandering to the isolationist base that brung him.