December 27, 2016

Donald Trump and the Foreign Policy Pendulum

Somewhere between Barack Obama and George W. Bush is where Trump's foreign policy should rest.

Every new administration sets out initially to distinguish itself from the previous one. This is especially true when the same party reoccupies the White House precisely because the new team must work doubly hard to set itself apart from the previous one. To wit, not only was George H. W. Bush from the same party as Ronald Reagan, but he was his vice president. Consequently, whereas Reagan generally promoted a Wilsonian worldview, the elder Bush immediately cast himself as a realist with a much more professional foreign-policy team than his predecessor. President-elect Donald Trump does not have that problem. He is coming in as a Republican after a Democratic administration. He will not have to try hard to differentiate himself from Barack Obama.

The Obama administration was defined by retrenchment and restraint. It brought two brigade combat teams back from Europe, did not intervene in Syria when it might have in 2011 and was slow to respond to Chinese island grabbing in the South China Sea. Time will tell whether this policy was wise or foolish. In any case, the Trump team, in order to show how different it is, will seek to occupy the vast space between Obama’s restraint and George W. Bush’s aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq. The danger is that, in seeking to act more aggressively than Obama against ISIS and less aggressively than the Bush administration in Iraq, Trump will, nevertheless, overcommit somewhere.

Read the full article at The National Interest.