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The following began its brief life as a comment on another recent post, but after reflection I thought maybe it was cogent enough to stand on its own. On the foreign policy front, I suspect I may be the only one here who has served in Embassies, including during the Trump era. This is what I will say about that.
- I’m sure I won’t break any news when I say that most of the foreign policy establishment leans left and is distressed when any Republican is elected but was especially so in 2016. This is not only true of our dear State Department friends but across the entire transnational community of foreign policy elites.
- Continuing as Captain Obvious, DJT is a norm-breaker, and the foreign policy community seriously loves it some norms–and resents when they are broken.
- Of course, some norms badly needed to be broken. In particular, the national and international foreign policy consensus on China urgently needed to move, and this administration succeeded in catalyzing that movement. The 2017 National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy were masterfully done. They met a critical need to generate a global awakening about the failure of the previous consensus on Beijing, probably best summarized by Robert Zoellick’s 2005 “Responsible Stakeholder” speech. Someone had to end the charade, and it’s worth wondering whether a more conventional administration of either party could have overcome the entrenched consensus to have boldly introduced major-power competition as the new normal–so successfully that even the professionals now agree that we can’t go back to the status quo ante on China.
- Israel and the Middle East is the other major area where the foreign policy consensus simply had to be sidelined. I recently spoke to a State Department official who–in the context of a discussion about normalization with the UAE and Bahrain–seethed angrily about how this Administration had trashed 70 years of foreign policy consensus on Palestine. Without irony. Sometimes the conventional wisdom must be firmly rejected.
- Getting our allies to finally invest in their own defense is also a plus.
- Having said that, we are paying a price for appearing capricious and unnecessarily dismissive of our allies. Sure, they can be difficult, but they remain our allies and we do need to keep them on our side. Those same national security documents make it clear that major-power competition is a team sport, and we have to bring the team along if we’re going to win. And we must win.
- Also, the incessantly revolving door of senior officials (especially SecDefs and National Security Advisors) has been extremely disruptive to getting important work done in the international space.
- Finally, there’s been a dearth of consistently strong and vocal leadership on our American principles (democracy, rule of law, human rights, etc.), particularly since Nikki Haley stepped down as U.N. Ambassador. Foreign policy requires salesmanship, and ours would benefit from some strength, steadiness, and consistency on these themes.
Bottom line, this administration has served as a corrective to some badly flawed policy. Disruption was absolutely necessary, but at some point should start to give way to stability and focused team-building.