If you listened long enough to Donald Trump during his first presidential campaign, you could find grounds to hope that he would make some badly needed changes in American foreign policy. After the catastrophe of the Iraq War and the dismal slog of Afghanistan, Trump promised a different approach.
“We’re getting out of the nation-building business and instead focusing on creating stability in the world,” he said.
“We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about,” he vowed, promising “a disciplined, deliberate
and consistent foreign policy.”
He condemned the invasion of Iraq, opposed intervention in Syria and called for leaving Afghanistan. He said our endless wars would end. He pledged to make our allies bear their full share of defense costs. He raised the possibility of a firm restraint in dealing with the rest of the world.
Like most of Trump’s promises, these proved empty. Instead of bringing troops home from Afghanistan, he increased their numbers. He sent ground forces to Syria — and to Iraq. He expanded President Barack Obama’s “drone war” in Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen.
The advantage of this record is that he can recycle the promises he made four years ago. He says he will “stop endless wars and bring our troops home.” He assures us that in his second term, he will “get allies to pay their fair share,” an admission that he hasn’t done so.
His foreign policy has also been anything but “disciplined, deliberate and consistent.” He has picked fights with allies, blown hot and cold with China and North Korea, and rashly pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran, giving Tehran the opportunity to expand its stockpile of enriched uranium.
North Korea has kept adding to its nuclear arsenal, despite Trump’s bromance with Kim Jong Un and his claim to have “solved that problem.” The most consistent element has been his tireless appeasement of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Advocates of a more restrained foreign policy can no longer hope to get it from Trump. But there is good reason to think it might come about under Joe Biden, who has a vast store of knowledge and experience on these matters, having been chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and vice president.