Friday, March 16, 2018

Shake Ups with the Trump Foreign Policy Team Continue to Weaken the US Internationally

What can we make of the recent shake ups with US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy team?  The simple answer is it is a further sign of confusion within the administration that only will
contribute to ineffectiveness in foreign policy and, second, it is a further retreat from soft policy defining American international strategy.  The new result is a continued weakening of the US on an international stage, especially dangerous as Russia and Putin seem embolden.
First, there is no surprise that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is gone.  He never seemed to have much support from Trump and in the last few months his position and status have dramatically eroded.  In part this reflects Tillerson’s lack of diplomacy skills and also the fact that Trump did not seem to view diplomacy as a major aspect of his administration.  Evidence of that is that many State Department positions are unfilled even to this day and many careerists have departed.     Moreover, Trump seems to prefer a more muscular or militaristic or hardpower aspect to foreign policy as opposed to the use of soft power.  His administration was full of generals (for now). Thus, no surprise Tillerson is gone except to ask why it took so long.
What will it mean now that Tillerson is leaving?  Obama was criticized for his pivot toward Asia and ignoring Europe but in many ways this is what Trump has done so far and will continue to do as president.  He has made China a major trade and economic enemy and North Korea is a major focus of conflict bordering on military action.  There will be little change here with Mike Pompeo from the CIA taking over.  In fact, he may complicate possible talks with North Korea which will require the Chinese to cooperate. 
How the new Secretary of State tries to push China while also trying to do talks with North Korea will be interesting to watch.  If he does not change his rhetoric toward China one can expect that there will be increased tensions with China and perhaps more trade tariffs on China.   Moreover, there is no indication that there will be a renewed focus on Europe and Russia.  Yes the US did issue new sanctions against Russia to punish it for its interference in its 2016 elections, but Trump himself did not act, it was the foreign policy establishment.  While the foreign policy bureaucracy in the US is powerful, Trump seems to be ignoring it, leaving open how effective it can be going forward.
Tillerson’s departure is not the only one.  A week ago Gary Cohen, Trump’s chief economic advisor, left in protest of the steel and aluminum tariffs.  He and Tillerson were free traders, Trump is not.  Signs are the Trump administration is ready to start a trade war by pulling back on international agreements in the interests of pursuing US economic nationalism. Look at how Trump just prevented Broadcom, a Singapore-based chip maker, from purchasing Qualcomm, as an indication how nationalistic trade policy will also dominate US Asia-Pacific foreign policy into the future on the new Secretary of State.  The free-traders, diplomats, and multilateralists have left the administration.  This suggests for Asia and the rest of the world a more confrontational US foreign policy.
Rumored now also that Trump’s national security advisor H.R. McMaster, another former military officer, is on the way out.  John Kelly, his chief of staff and also former military officer, is probably also on his way out.  Others may leave.  An administration once  full of generals suggested a presidency dominated by hard or military power except the generals did not agree with Trump’s whims.  They came from the foreign policy establishment that Trump is rejecting.   He now seems ready to pick those who  have no experience in foreign policy–people just like him.
Where the Trump administration seems headed is toward foreign policy people who know even less than him, having neither military nor diplomatic skills.    These people too will not last long, further contributing to the ineffectiveness of the Trump administration internationally.

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