In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to respond with force to use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s government, various sources have, in my view, thoroughly misinterpreted the meaning of his action (see, for example, www.nytimes.com/2017/04/08/us/politics/trump-doctrine-foreign-policy.html). A solitary act, it seems, is enough to make people think Trump has undergone a complete conversion. Various observers have said:
- Trump shows he is now an internationalist, not a nationalist.
- Trump’s foreign policy has a “doctrine”: flexibility.
- Trump is now prepared to use force in support of policy.
- Trump’s foreign policy is guided by ideals, not just power politics.
- Trump has cleverly warned adversaries to watch out for his unpredictability.
One analyst quoted in the above article has got it right: Trump remains “unpredictable, instinctual, and undisciplined.” “Flexibility” is not the basis of foreign policy; with Trump, it suggests uncertainty and impulsiveness, which are hardly admirable qualities. He reacts from the seat of his pants, not from a set of values or sense of national interests (other than his own financial well-being). In a nutshell, Trump is Chauncey the gardener, but not nearly so nice. His views on Syria today were not his views a few years ago and will probably not be his views next week. He moves in a zigzag line, and while some observers (or even foreign leaders) may perceive that quality in a positive light, its risks far outweigh its possible rewards.
What so many pundits in and outside the media fail to see is that when it comes to international affairs, Donald Trump is not a worldly or smart man. He is simply lost, flailing about for answers, speaking like a child about complex issues, and placing around him inexpert, inexperienced advisers who are only a little less lost than he. His retaliatory strike in Syria is a momentary thing, hardly indicative of clarity, rethinking, or decisiveness in foreign policymaking.
What does that conclusion mean for Trump’s dealings with North Korea, Russia, and China? Stay tuned for the following post.