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Hence Trump had even more incentive than his predecessors to remove North Korea’s military threat and even less leverage. To him as to them, “negotiations” offer the opportunity to defer rethinking basic policy, and permit pretending that the ends of vintage policy can still be achieved without burdensome new means.

America’s internal dynamics well-nigh ensure a continuation of the previous pattern. By May 2018 North Korea had signalled that its commitment to de-nuclearisation did not mean that it would give up everything. The negotiations would have to be long, and involve compensation. Trump cancelled the summit.

Domestic reaction was unfavourable. North Korea renewed the offer, while not withdrawing its proviso. Negotiations about negotiations ensued. Trump announced success, unspecified. The summit was back on, and the US would pay for Kim Jong-il’s hotel arrangements. Trump basked in his domestic supporters’ declarations of victory. Declaring victories is easier than achieving them.

Trump’s strength in these negotiations lies in the American public’s wide and deep scepticism of Kim Jong-un’s motives, in its disdain for previous US negotiators’ fecklessness, and in the fact that Trump went out of his way to open sunny vistas for Kim. Trump prepared the public for the negotiations’ failure by stating that he would walk out rather than take part in another farce. Hence, the public might well cheer such a walkout. Trump could gain double advantage, however, by delaying it until after the US congressional elections in November.

North Korea, however, is a subsidiary part of the larger question: how, if at all, will the US resist China’s efforts to push it militarily and politically out of the Western Pacific — effectively erasing the results of World War II?  The foreign policy establishment’s sentiment against China is hardening, slowly but surely. The latest Defence Authorisation bill projects a modest $1.5 billion over five years to improve US defences in the region. And while it affirms the existing alliance system with Japan, South Korea and Australia, it underwrites the change of the Pacific Command to  the Indo-Pacific Command, and also encourages more weapons sales to Taiwan. Trump, on his own authority, has increased the number of “freedom of navigation” patrols within what China claims as territorial waters around the artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea. None of this, of course is a match either for China’s claims or for its capacity to enforce those claims. Trump’s original opening to Taiwan would have been the beginning of a serious assertion of US commitment to preserving the results of World War II in the Pacific. Perhaps events will force seriousness.

Trump’s election injected a bit of the American people’s fundamental attitudes into the conduct of US foreign policy. But Trump is too foreign to the policy establishment, too reticent towards it, and too lacking in specific ideas to have grasped the levers of policy. Those attitudes, however, are not going away. Events are likely to compel Trump, and any president who follows him, to take them increasingly into account.
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An Gíogóir
August 29th, 2018
9:08 AM
I'm not sure what this article is trying to say. Should Trump go with the foreign policy establishment view or not?

Lawrence James
July 2nd, 2018
9:07 AM
Americans have always desired 'to live peacefully' with their neighbours. If this urge ever existed, why did it express itself in the invasion of Mexico and the subsequent annexations. Was the war against Spain in 1898 another manifestation of this same wish for harmony with its neighbours ? And there were the wars against the native Americans and, more pertinently, the little wars waged by General Smedley Butler in various parts of the Caribbean between the wars. Aggression which he rightly denounced as undertaken in the interests of the big corporations.The Cold War and its aftermath have seen a cluster of similar coercive wars. Such selective omissions suggest that this just another Trump propaganda excercise. Fair enough but next time find someone with some knowledge of history.

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