Pence’s Weak Defense of Administration Foreign Policy
Vice President Pence issued an unpersuasive statement defending the administration’s foreign policy record to date:
By increasing our national defense and re-engaging our allies, President Donald Trump has restored the credibility of American power. Today our nation once again stands, without apology, as leader of the free world. That’s what American leadership on the world stage looks like and no amount of criticism at home can diminish those results.”
It is true enough that domestic criticism can’t diminish the results of Trump’s foreign policy, but that is because there are really no positive results to be diminished. Trump has not “re-engaged” allies, but has done a fairly good job of insulting and alienating them. Indeed, he has gone out of his way to pick fights with allied and cooperative governments since taking office, and his tendency to bluster and threaten the use of force has unnerved many more. The one government that has the most reason to be pleased with Trump, Saudi Arabia, is the most despicable client we have, the one that implicates us in its coalition’s war crimes in Yemen, and the one that the U.S. should be rid of as soon as possible. The U.S. is less trusted by allied governments and publics than it has been since the nadir of the Iraq war, and the administration’s enthusiasm for embracing and arming despots and strongmen makes the claim to leading the “free world” a bad joke at best.
Our allies remember a similar sort of U.S. “leadership” under Bush. Almost all of them didn’t like it then, and they aren’t liking it now. Far from restoring the “credibility of American power,” Trump has made a number of reckless threats that he can’t back up without causing a catastrophe (and therefore should never have made in the first place), and in the process has made the volatile situation on the Korean Peninsula much harder to manage. Foreign governments are not impressed by an administration that mostly leaves them confused and unsure about what U.S. policy on a given issue is, and adversaries scoff publicly at what they perceive to be empty threats from an undisciplined and short-sighted leader. Try as he might to put a positive spin on the last nine months of incompetence and dysfunction, Pence isn’t fooling anyone that wasn’t already a committed supporter of the president. It is telling that Pence’s weak defense is the best one the administration can offer, and the criticism is only going to get louder if Trump refuses to certify the Iran deal in a few days.
Trump’s approach to the nuclear deal illustrates many of the biggest problems with his foreign policy. First, it is based on a lack of understanding of the issue, and it is driven by foolish overconfidence that the U.S. can force Iran and the other parties to accept a new, different agreement despite having much less leverage than the U.S. had in the past. Trump has no grasp of the likely consequences of reneging on the deal, and he displays total contempt for the opinions of our allies. The administration’s claims about the deal’s “flaws” are unfounded, ignorant, or both, and they betray a fundamental lack of seriousness about a very important matter. There is no attempt to marshal support and assemble allies in a united front. Trump’s idea of leadership is to make unreasonable demands and then simply wait for others to fall in line. Unfortunately, this is what American leadership on the world stage looks like right now, and it is an embarrassment.