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- U.S. President (2017- )
- Trump Organization
- Trump Plaza Associates, LLC
- University of Pennsylvania: BA, Economics
When he took office, Donald Trump’s foreign policy vision was criticized as inconsistent and ad hoc, often driven by child-like reactions to perceived personal affronts. More than a year into his presidency, Trump’s proclivity for hardline policies and extremist advisers has become abundantly clear. He has sought to overturn numerous long-standing U.S. policies, alienated America’s allies, and taken actions that increase instability around the world. His signature move to date has been his decision in May 2018 to leave the Iran nuclear agreement, which experts fear could lead to a new region-wide conflict.
Among Trump’s other notable moves during his first year-and-a-half in office: brushing aside concerns about Russian overseas aggression while questioning the value of NATO; making numerous ill-advised moves that have weakened U.S. relations with friends while heaping praise on authoritarian leaders from Ankara to Manila to Moscow; announcing plans to boost the U.S. nuclear arsenal and glamorize military weapons in parades reminiscent of the Soviet bloc; imposing new tariffs that threaten relations with long-standing trading partners; sparking a diplomatic crisis when he called a swath of developing nations “shithole countries”; tossing aside America’s humanitarian legacy by seeking to dramatically cut back refugee applicants despite burgeoning global crises; giving high-level posts to a slate of hardline foreign policy figures, like National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; repeatedly threatening and provoking North Korea, which responded by rapidly building up its nuclear weapons capabilities and subsequently repeated its long-standing request for a summit, which Trump quickly agreed to; and embracing a one-sided view of relations with Israel that includes his announcement that the U.S. embassy will move to Jerusalem, a decision that was condemned by nearly all members of the United Nations, and which caused the Palestinians to cut off all talks with the United States.
Alienating Allies, Embracing Adversaries
In July 2018, Trump undertook a highly controversial and divisive trip to Europe, which included a NATO summit in Brussels; an official state visit to the United Kingdom to meet with both Prime Minister Theresa May and the queen; and a trip to Helsinki for a private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Even before Trump left for Brussels and the NATO meeting, he made it clear that he would be confrontational, tweeting, “The U.S. is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them. Not fair to the U.S. taxpayer. On top of that we lose $151 Billion on Trade with the European Union. Charge us big Tariffs (& Barriers)!”
Trump then opened the summit by claiming that Germany was a “captive of Russia,” and that NATO members were “delinquent” in their defense spending.Journalist Mitchell Plitnick of Lobelog observed, “It will come as no surprise that the accusation is ridiculous. In no way does Russia “control” Germany. Russia does supply between 50% and 75% of Germany’s natural gas, but natural gas accounts for less than 20% of Germany’s energy use. That’s hardly control.” On the NATO “delinquent payments” accusation, he notes, “What Trump is talking about is a commitment to spend a certain percentage of each member’s GDP on their own militaries. … [In 2014] NATO allies committed to raising their spending on defense to 2% of their GDP by 2024.”
Trump first demanded that the spending increase be made immediately, and then that all NATO members increase their spending to 4% of their GDP, a demand Plitnick termed “laughable. The US in 2017 spent 3.57% of its GDP on defense.”
Trump even threatened that the U.S. might “go it alone” if other countries did not meet his standards, prompting an emergency meeting to be called after the nations had ostensibly agreed to issue a positive statement.Trump eventually relented, but his claims that he had won new concessions—a claim he left unspecific—were immediately disputed, and it appeared that the allies had simply reiterated their 2014 commitment. While Trump claimed that NATO was now stronger, and the U.S. commitment was firm, neither seemed to be the case.
Landing in the United Kingdom just as the conservative government of Prime Minister Theresa May was in a state of chaos amid high-level resignations over the dispute over Brexit, Trump waded into the middle of the controversy and stirred it up even further. Speaking to the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper, The Sun, Trump criticized May for not heeding his advice about how to handle Brexit, and even said of May’s plans to maintain ties with the European Union after Brexit, “If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal.”
Trump also praised Boris Johnson, a proponent of a much sharper cut with the E.U. who had just resigned from May’s government and is seen as a rival from her right flank, saying Johnson would make “a great Prime Minister.”
At a joint press conference the following day, Trump worked hard to walk back his comments, showering praise on May. Incredibly, he even called the Sun interview, which was recorded on video, “fake news,” despite the world having heard the words directly from him.
“I didn’t criticize the prime minister,” Trump said. “I have a lot of respect for the prime minister. Unfortunately, there was a story that was done, which was generally fine, but it didn’t put in what I said about the prime minister, and I said tremendous things. Fortunately we tend to record stories now so we have it for your enjoyment if you’d like it. But we record when we deal with reporters. It’s called fake news. We solve a lot of problems with the good old recording instrument.”
As Trump was departing from England, the Guardian’s editorial page stated flatly, “[Trump] is not our ally. He is hostile to our interests and values. He may even, if this goes on, become a material threat. This week he deliberately inflamed the politics of Europe and of Britain. Yes, Mrs. May brought it on herself, but it was hard not to feel for her as a person over the last day and half. She now needs to learn the lesson, and to lead Britain, Brexit or no Brexit, into a constructive and effective relationship with our more dependable allies, who share our values, in Europe.”
As Trump was wrapping up his stay in the United Kingdom, special counsel Robert Mueller, issued indictments for 12 Russian intelligence officers whom he accused of “large-scale cyber operations to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” Some Democrats called on Trump to cancel his planned summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin in the wake of the indictments. Trump did not consider doing so, nor did he change his pan to have a private meeting with Putin with only their interpreters in the room with them. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) bluntly stated, “I would not trust the president alone with Putin without some other Americans in the administration in there. For the president to break with the normal practice and meet with the Russian president alone, I wouldn’t trust what he says there.”
Yet the private meeting did occur, adding to the atmosphere of mistrust that already existed about Trump’s relationship with Russia and Putin. When asked if he believed that Russia did meddle in the election, Trump said,”I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” and that he “didn’t see any reason why Russia would” have done that.
These comments, which clearly implied that he believed Putin’s word over the assessments of all U.S. intelligence services, created a massive backlash in the media and on Capitol Hill.Trump was widely rebuked, and his attempts later to walk back the comments were greeted with intense skepticism, and even ridicule.According to a Daily Beast/Ipsos poll, only 5% of U.S. citizens believed the United States benefited from the Trump-Putin meeting, while, in an unprecedented response, “Nearly half of the respondents (49 percent) said they agreed with assessments that Trump’s performance at the summit could be described as “treasonous.” That included 21 percent of Republican respondents. By contrast, a mere quarter (27 percent) of respondents disagreed with the assessment of treasonous behavior.”
Undoing the Iran Nuclear Deal
During his campaign for the White House, Trump said that his “number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”On May 9, 2018, he fulfilled that promise by announcing that the United States was leaving the agreement and would reinstate sanctions on Iran. This put the United States in material breach of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), even though everyone, including leadingfiguresin his own administration, had confirmed that Iran was fully complying with the deal.
By law, the president is required to periodically certify that Iran is complying with the deal, and to waive sanctions against Iran. Trump had continued to waive the sanctions, but in October 2017, he refused to certify that Iran was complying with the deal, despite offering no evidence to refute the International Atomic Energy Association’s repeated certifications of Iranian compliance.
Trump had been discouraging investment in Iran from his earliest days in office, contravening the U.S. commitment in the nuclear deal to “refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly and adversely affect the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.”To build a case against the deal, he has repeatedly stated that Iran is violating the spirit of the deal, but to make this case, he only cites Iranian behaviors that were not included in the deal.
While Iran and the U.S.’ partners in the JCPOA have insisted that they want to maintain the deal and are not inclined to reopen negotiations,Trump’s actions and rhetoric are seen as increasing tensions and possibly leading to armed conflict.
On January 12, 2018, Trump waived sanctions on Iran—as required under the deal—for what he said was the last time, setting an effective deadline of May 12 for Congress to pass changes to the deal that he wanted. It was unclear how Congress could change the deal, since it was an agreement between the P5+1 and Iran, but in any case, Congress did not take up any legislation that could address Trump’s demands. As the deadline drew nearer, most observers were convinced that Trump would, indeed, abrogate U.S. involvement in the agreement.
As one journalist described it, “Leaving the deal under these circumstances will lead to unpredictable results. But Trump’s agitation against the deal and threats to unilaterally withdraw have already crippled U.S. credibility around the world…Tensions with most of our allies, already at unprecedented levels, will go much higher, especially if Trump decides to try to press other countries to participate through the use of secondary sanctions. Iran will, naturally, cease to cooperate with intrusive inspections. It is also likely to accelerate its nuclear program past the limits agreed to in the JCPOA.”
In fact, the Trump administration has made it clear that it will employ secondary sanctions—penalties against countries that do business with Iran in defiance of U.S. sanctions—against its European allies and would not grant waivers, as some E.U. countries such as England, France, and Germany had requested. The U.S. has imposed a November 4 deadline for countries to wind down their business in and with Iran to zero.
On May 5, 2018, the British newspaper, Observer, reported on evidence that Trump’s administration had employed a private Israeli firm to dig up dirt on key Obama administration officials—Colin Kahl and Ben Rhodes—who had been deeply involved in the nuclear negotiations with Iran. “According to incendiary documents seen by the Observer, investigators contracted by the private intelligence agency were told to dig into the personal lives and political careers of Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, and Kahl, a national security adviser to the former vice-president Joe Biden. Among other things they were looking at personal relationships, any involvement with Iran-friendly lobbyists, and if they had benefited personally or politically from the peace deal,” the newspaper reported.
Rhodes said of the revelations, “This just eviscerates any norm of how governments should operate or treat their predecessors and their families,” he said. “It crosses a dangerous line.”Rhodes also asked, rhetorically, “Why would someone feel the need to do this to win a debate about the merits of the Iran Deal? What message does this send to people entering into public service?”
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
In his first year in office, Trump saw the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians disappear completely. The Palestinian leadership, which tried to maintain a positive attitude toward Trump despite some disturbing rhetoric early on, has now abandoned the United States as a partner in the effort to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.The Trump administration is widely seen as having fully embraced the policies of the Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Early in his campaign, some believed that Trump might favor an even-handed approach to the conflict. Many rightwing “pro-Israel” factions were concerned because his views concerning the Middle East peace process were unclear and inconsistent. For example, Trump stated: “We love Israel. We will fight for Israel 100 percent, 1,000 percent.” He also foreshadowed his reversal of long-standing U.S. policy in announcing the move of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “They want it in Jerusalem. Well I am for that 100 percent. We are for that 100 percent,” he stated in January 2016.
However, at a December 2015 speech for the Republican Jewish Coalition, Trump suggested that Israel was not committed to making peace with the Palestinians. “I don’t know that Israel has the commitment to make it [a peace agreement], and I don’t know the other side has the commitment to make it,” he opined.
Additional complications for potential Jewish Trump supporters were the candidate’s “anti-Semitic followers, anti-Semitic (re)tweets and anti-Semitic-ish comments to Republican donors,” as FiveThirtyEight reported.“For those Jews who are primarily interested in American foreign policy in the Middle East, Trump’s lack of engagement with foreign affairs and unprecedented lack of experience in government make him an unknown quantity on many public policies,including foreign policy toward Israel. His early statements on Israel also signaled possible deviation from the standard pro-Likud line.”
Because of these factors, Trump’s support in the Jewish-American community plummeted in the lead up to the election. According to FiveThirtyEight, “So far in 2016, of all the money given to major-party candidates by donors who appear to be Jewish, 95 percent has gone to Hillary Clinton and just 5 percent has gone to Donald Trump.”But after Trump surprisingly won the Republican nomination, money from supporters of rightwing Israeli policies began to flow in to his campaign, topped off by a whopping $25 million from mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.
In the months after his election, Trump repeatedly embraced a one-sided view of relations with Israel. He appointed a major funder of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem as U.S. ambassador to Israel (David Friedman).He named his son-in-law, Jared Kushner and his lawyer, Jason Greenblatt as his key Middle East envoys, despite both men’s complete lack of diplomatic experience and their well-established ties to the hardline pro-Israel Jewish community in the United States. Nikki Haley, Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations immediately made it clear that she believed a significant part of her job was defending Israel at the UN.
After the December 2016 UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements in occupied territories, a vote the Obama administration chose to abstain from, Trump condemned the resolution, pressured Obama to veto it, said it was a “big loss” for Israel, and claimed that “things would be different” when he became president.
Retired CIA officer and prominent foreign policy analyst Paul R. Pillar said of the UN resolution: “As a matter of substance, Trump’s posture toward the UN resolution should be occasion for deep dismay. Long forgotten is his promise to be a ‘neutral guy‘ in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since he made that pledge he has come to terms with (right wing casino mogul and major Republican funder) Sheldon Adelson and, through other statements and appointments, has made clear that he will be anything but neutral.”
In the early days of his administration, Trump refused to endorse a two-state solution.He more recently said the U.S. “would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides,” a formulation widely seen as giving Israel veto power over such a solution.He has refrained from criticizing any Israeli actions, including settlement expansion.These conditions raised tensions in the region, which boiled over when Trump announced that the United States was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and would move its embassy there. Anger over this decision was immediate in the region,with unrest continuing to the present day,and long-term effects remaining a concern.
In response, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the U.S. could no longer function as a mediator of peace talksand soon after refused to meet with Vice President Mike Pence when he came to the region.
Trump took Abbas’ refusal to meet Pence as a personal insult and responded by withholding funds for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) which provides sustenance for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees throughout the region. He also threatened all aid to the Palestinians unless they returned to the negotiating table, saying, “That money is on the table and that money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”The threat failed to bring Abbas back to the table.
The Trump administration has presented a peace plan to the Israelis and Palestinians, which Trump is trying to force the Palestinians to agree to by withholding the aid. The peace deal was developed by Trump’s envoys, Kushner and Greenblatt, in coordination with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As of mid-2018, the peace deal had still not been presented. According to early reports, Trump’s plan “may include” recognition of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, placing the Old City of Jerusalem under international “protection,” and a requirement that the Palestinians give up the “Right of Return” to what is now Israel. It also was said to call for “expanding the PA’s security and administrative authorities in areas A and B of the West Bank,” which called into question the amount of territory Trump’s plan would devote to the proposed Palestinian state and the extent of that state’s real sovereignty.
By June 2018, there was still no clarity on the points that would be in the proposed “peace plan,” even though Trump administration officials were claiming that the plan was nearing its unveiling. However, certain rumored points had been repeated often enough to appear likely to be accurate. These included: A Palestinian capital in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis, rather than in East Jerusalem; Israel would retain the entire Old City of Jerusalem; no removal of any West Bank settlements; a completely de-militarized Palestinian state, in only part of the West Bank, with the Jordan Valley remaining completely under Israeli control; and a $1 billion program to rehabilitate Gaza, developing it as a separate entity from the West Bank.
The plan was widely viewed as a non-starter, despite the optimistic spin Jared Kushner tried to put on it in a rare interview with a Palestinian newspaper. “At the end of the day, I believe that Palestinian people are less invested in the politicians’ talking points than they are in seeing how a deal will give them and their future generations new opportunities, more and better paying jobs and prospects for a better life,” Kushner told the daily, Al-Quds.
In response, journalist Mitchell Plitnick wrote, “If Kushner believes that a slight uptick in average household income will obscure Palestinian concerns about settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, and the very nature of their national existence, he is gravely mistaken. But the entire interview seems to reflect just such a view.”
A similarly tone-deaf attitude was reflected in Trump’s timing of the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. It was scheduled to kick off celebrations of the 70thanniversary of Israel’s independence, a day that, for Palestinians, recalls not joy, but dispossession and the commencement of years of oppression that has gone from bad to worse.
Weeks of protests culminated in a day of protests where 60 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, while Trump administration officials celebrated with Israeli leaders at the embassy opening. The juxtaposed images were jarring for many, including many liberal supporters of Israel.
The next day, the United States blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an investigation into the deaths in Gaza. “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas. Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response,” White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters.The spokesman did not elaborate on why, if Hamas was responsible, the United States resisted a call for an impartial investigation.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Crisis
On June 5, 2017, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt announced that they were severing ties with Qatar, in the wake of broadcasts that escalated tensions between Qatar and the other states. This was barely two weeks after Trump had made his first visit as President to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi king and Crown Prince reportedly poured flattery and honors on Trump, which was instrumental in Trump adopting the Saudi view of the Gulf region’s politics virtually without deviation.
The next day, Trump tweeted his unqualified support for the Saudis, saying “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!”The standoff continues, although Qatar has mended some fences with the United States and is weathering the boycott.
Trump, through his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, continued close coordination with Saudi Arabia.This was chilled somewhat by Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,but the Saudis continued to work with the Trump administration closely on the proposed peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Playing With the Threat of Nuclear War with North Korea and Conflict with China
During his presidential campaign, Trump seized on North Korea as an issue he could use for demonstrative declarations and criticism of past administrations. But Trump’s campaign statements varied wildly in how he would approach the issue of North Korea. In a January 2016, Trump called North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un a “maniac” and erroneously stated that North Korea was “completely under the control of China.”Trump implied that he expected China to take greater action against North Korea. Coupled with his accusatory tone toward China, this seemed to augur potential escalation with Beijing. Trump said that as president he would “immediately” declare China a “currency manipulator.” In a January 2016 interview with the New York Times, he said that he would “tax China on products coming in.” He added: “I would do a tax … [and] the tax should be 45 percent.”
Trump has been less aggressive with China as President than he had indicated, and many observers believe that the United States’ influence in the region has declined sharply under Trump.In response to that criticism, Trump escalated the rhetoric against China, but later softened his tone after Chinese president Xi Jinping. Trump even went so far as to cancel penalties against the Chinese telecom corporation, ZTE, which had become the poster child in the U.S. for China’s objectionable trade practices.The decision prompted bipartisan outrage, which grew even louder when it was revealed that Trump’s decision came just three days after the Chinese government agreed to provide $500 million in loans to an Indonesian theme park that the Trump Organization had a deal with for licensing Trump’s name.
After Congress overruled Trump and reinstated the penalties on ZTE, Trump again escalated the rhetoric, this time into action, as he imposed $50 billion in tariffs on China. After the Chinese retaliated with equal and targeted tariffs, Trump threatened to escalate the trade war significantly, but finally backed down.
Trump’s rhetoric vacillated dangerously between extremes regarding North Korea as well. In 2017, Trump repeatedly mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, calling him “little rocket man” and one time saying Kim was “short and fat.”He implied a threat of a nuclear strike, saying that the United States would respond to further North Korean provocations with “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen.”
While many see Trump’s statements as bluster, the ongoing and escalating tensions prompted the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to move the symbolic “Doomsday Clock” ahead by 30 seconds, to two minutes to midnight, the closest to global destruction the clock has been since 1953.
Nevertheless, during the first half of 2018, there was considerable progress in talks between North and South Korea. North Korea sent a delegation to the winter Olympics in the south and opened a wide-ranging, high-level dialogue. This culminated, in April, in a summit meeting between Kim Jong-Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In committed to a framework for talks with the goals of officially ending the Korean War—which reached an armistice in 1953 and so has remained in a technical state of war ever since—and, with a firm peace treaty in hand, the denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula.
Trump—who had earlier surprised the world by accepting without conditions a South Korean-presented proposal for a summit with Kim Jong-Un—claimed credit for the breakthrough. He told a rally of his supporters, “I had one of the fake news groups this morning, they were saying, ‘what do you think President Trump had to do with it?’
Other observers were more skeptical. One journalist noted, “Kim’s recent concessions—a promise to refrain from nuclear testing and a willingness to discuss disarmament—are not what Trump thinks. Although the suspension of tests is certainly welcome, it’s clear that Kim feels he is secure with a nuclear deterrent. He is, therefore, abandoning the long-time North Korean policy of ‘parallel advancement’ of nuclear power and economic growth to focus on the latter. The growth of the two has hardly been parallel, so Kim may well have decided to catch up on the economic side.”
Another observer, Daniel Drezner, wrote, “Kim’s bargaining position has also strengthened considerably over the past year. North Korea has made great strides in both its nuclear and ballistic missile technology. It also accidentally destroyed the mountain where it conducted its missile tests. Given these facts—and, let’s be fair, the ratcheting up of global pressure—Kim’s pivoting to negotiations is unsurprising. I have yet to read a compelling causal argument for Kim’s friendliness that cannot be explained away by North Korean military strength rather than economic vulnerability. The latter likely played a factor, but the former seems way more important.“
On June 12, 2018, Trump and Kim held the first ever summit between leaders of the U.S. and North Korea. The meeting resulted in a statement and with Trump being criticized for his praise of Kim. Trump’s statements included, “We’ve developed a very special bond,” and “Well, he is very talented. Anybody that takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough. I don’t say he was nice.”Soon after, he also remarked, “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”
Trump drew widespread criticism for his embrace of a man known to be one of the cruelest autocrats in the world, as well as for his near total neglect of the issue of human rights in North Korea.The actual resultof the summit—a non-binding statement—was greeted with fiercely diverse responses.
Trump claimed it was a great step forward,but detractors claimed that Trump made substantive concessions—such as cancelling military exercises with South Korea, something he did with no consultation, apparently, with either our Korean allies or the defense Department—while receiving only vague promises. Both supportersand detractorsof Trump’s performance came from all points on the political spectrum.
Many observers held that opening dialogue after decades with minimal direct contact is a major step forward. “What’s important is that Trump is invested in the success of his venture. Because if it fails, he fails. And Donald Trump doesn’t like to fail,” wrote Korea expert John Feffer.And Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote, “Trump’s engagement with North Korea has been chaotic and should have begun with working-level talks, but it’s still better for leaders to exchange handshakes than missiles.”
Others were more wary. Right wing columnist Jennifer Rubin—a fierce critic of Trump form the right on many issues—wrote, “The president of the United States was fleeced, and worse, has no doubt impressed upon Kim that this country can be played for fools and strung along. Trump gave Kim newfound legitimacy and Kim’s nuclear weapons program can go on and on.”
Former C.I.A. analyst Paul Pillar was more granular in his criticism. “As many commentators have noted after the Singapore meeting, Pyongyang hasn’t conceded anything yet, let alone implemented a concession. In the short and sketchy joint statement, Kim Jong Un merely reaffirmed a vague commitment to denuclearization—however defined—that his regime had asserted many times before. The big up-front concession was by the United States. That concession was the meeting itself. Not only a meeting, but a meeting with all the flags and finery, the friendly pats and warm words, that went well beyond the bare minimum of summitry in symbolically bestowing legitimacy on Kim’s thugocracy. The meeting, and Kim’s treatment as an equal of the president of the United States, demonstrated the success of Kim’s strategy of using rapid development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles as a key to getting attention and getting such treatment. The current pause in North Korea’s testing of weapons is not a concession. It is a mark of having arrived, and, as Kim himself has said, of his program’s success.”
In what could become a major test of Trump’s efforts with North Korea, reports came out in late June 2018 that U.S. intelligence agencies assessed that North Korea was enhancing its nuclear stockpile. According to the Washington Post, “the [Defense Intelligence Agency] has concluded that North Korean officials are exploring ways to deceive Washington about the number of nuclear warheads and missiles, and the types and numbers of facilities they have, believing that the United States is not aware of the full range of their activities.”
On nuclear weapons
North Korea is not the only part of Trump’s policies regarding nuclear weapons to raise grave concerns. Trump’s statements on nuclear weapons have been worrisome since the campaign trail.In an interview with Chris Matthews during the election campaign, Trump suggested that he would use nuclear weapons to combat ISIS. When Matthews countered that no one in the world wants to hear a U.S. presidential candidate talk about using nuclear weapons, Trump said: “Then why do we make them?”
Trump reignited concerns about his nuclear weapons views when, a few weeks before his inauguration, he said on Twitter that the U.S. “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”Trump’s campaign manager later attempted to downplay the statement, saying “He’s not making policy on Twitter” and misleadingly arguing that “perhaps” Trump was “echoing what President Obama himself has tried to do here, which is get upgrades to our nuclear systems.”
It is true that Obama had proposed a plan to upgrade and modernize the United States’ nuclear arsenal at the cost of $1 trillion over 30 years. Many experts felt this was wasteful and unnecessary.
In his 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), Trump not only doubles down on the Obama plan, he greatly expands the integration of nuclear and conventional forces, expands the deployment of nuclear weapons, and broadens the circumstances under which nuclear weapons might be used.
Dr. Lisbeth Gronlund, senior scientist and co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists offers the following analysis of the NPR: “One of the most disturbing and significant changes to U.S. policy outlined in the NPR is the tighter integration of U.S. nuclear and conventional forces, including training and exercising with these integrated forces, so U.S. forces can operate…in the face of nuclear threats and employment. This is the text-book definition of nuclear war-fighting. This new policy deliberately blurs the line between nuclear and conventional forces and eliminates a clear firewall.
“The decision to deploy another type of low-yield weapon—this one on submarines—is consistent with the new emphasis on nuclear war-fighting. Existing U.S. B61 bombs and air-launched cruise missiles already have low-yield options.
“The administration’s new policy also shoots a big hole in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is key to U.S. security. It simply rejects the U.S. obligation to take steps toward nuclear disarmament. Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has made progress—albeit slow progress—in reducing the number, types and role of its nuclear weapons. The new policy reverses that progress. The NPR is a giant slap in the face of the non-nuclear weapon states, who are already fed up with the slow progress of the United States and Russia.
Trump’s Schizophrenic Foreign Policy on the Campaign Trail
During his presidential election campaign, Trump often stumbled from abrasively hawkish to quasi-isolationist to patently ignorant. One much note incident was a 2015 interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, during which Trump was unable to answer questions about key leaders and situations in the Middle East. After complaining that Hewitt was giving him “gotcha” questions, Trump said: “I mean, you know, when you’re asking me about who’s running this, this this, that’s not, that is not, I will be so good at the military, your head will spin.”
Trump highlighted his ideas on terrorism and national security during a much-anticipated August 2016 speech in Youngstown, Ohio.Observers pointed to numerous misleading or false claimsin the speech, including: blaming Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama for withdrawing from Iraq, even though the Iraq withdrawal occurred according to a plan established by President George W. Bush and Trump had previously called for pulling out troops “right now”;his claim that he never supported the war in Iraq, despite the fact that he had previously voiced support for the war;and his “new strategy” against ISIS that the Obama Administration had already been pursuing.
Trump’s national security views drew both rebuke and praise from former military figures during his campaign. In September 2016, a group of nearly 90 retired military officers, many of whom have been tied to right wing politics, signed an open letter supporting Trump.
Columnist David Corn pointed out that, “It’s no surprise that a Republican candidate who has bashed the Iran nuclear deal and called for spending more money on the military could round up this band of former generals and admirals. But here’s the real story: Mitt Romney, during the 2012 campaign, had 500 retired generals and admirals on his side.”
In August 2016, several dozen former “national security officials” from Republican administrations as far back as Richard Nixon published an open letter saying they would not vote for Trump. They argued that he would be a “dangerous president,” that he appeared to “lack basic knowledge about and belief in the U.S. Constitution,” has “little understanding of America’s vital national interests,” displays “an alarming ignorance of basic facts of contemporary international politics,” and persistently “compliments our adversaries and threatens our friends and allies.”
Both conservative and liberal officials abroad also expressed deep reservations about Trump. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, said that Trump posed a danger to the world. During a news conference in Geneva in mid-October 2016, the UN official said that “If Donald Trump is elected on the basis of what he has said already—and unless that changes—I think it is without any doubt that he would be dangerous from an international point of view.”
First Year in Office
Trump’s first year in office was characterized by turmoil and confusion. One continuous theme, however was a focus on reversing the policies of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Andrew Bowen of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institutesaid, “There is a certain personal obsession in his foreign policy to roll back President Obama.”
Commenting on Trump’s first year, a writer for the Wall Street Journalwrote: “Since taking office last year, Mr. Trump has forged close bonds with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, all of whom had particularly frosty relationships with Mr. Obama. He also withdrew from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership accord that Mr. Obama championed and pared back the former president’s opening to Cuba.”
Frequent disagreements and lack of communication were hallmarks of Trump’s relationship with his first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. The two men often made contradictory statements on major matters of foreign policy, including the tensions with North Korea, support for the Iran nuclear deal, and the crisis in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Tensions grew so high that Tillerson was reported to have referred to the president as a “moron.”
Trump ran into similar problems with his second national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. Although the tensions were less public, reports from behind the scenes led to rumors of McMaster being replaced throughout the second half of 2017 and into 2018.Finally, both McMaster and Tillerson were replaced by John Boltonand Mike Pompeo, respectively.
Trump stated that “I am really at a point where we are getting close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want,” and many believed that with Bolton and McMaster he had two men he would get along with and who would carry out, rather than push back on his agenda.
Dividing the neocons
Trump has divided key Republican Party constituencies, notably including the neoconservatives, whom some observers argue were instrumental in Trump’s rise to the top of the GOP.Several neocon figures associated with the George W. Bush administration and the Iraq War claimed during the presidential race they would vote for Hillary Clinton because of their deep misgivings about Trump, including former Pentagon chief Paul Wolfowitz and Project for the New American Century cofounder Robert Kagan. Wolfowitz, in a widely cited Der Spiegel interview, said, “He says he admires Putin, that Saddam Hussein was killing terrorists, that the Chinese were impressive because they were tough on Tiananmen Square. That is pretty disturbing.” Weekly Standard and Commentary contributor Max Boot has complained that “Trump is a fascist.”
Other neoconservatives, however, like former CIA director James Woolsey and Center for Security Policy head Frank Gaffney embraced Trump. After Trump’s foreign policy speech in Youngstown, Gaffney told Breitbart News: “Having had the privilege of serving with President Reagan, I know it when I see it. What Donald Trump did, in this piece, was lay out both an understanding of the existential threat we’re facing—and this, of course, is something Reagan described as every generation’s task, is to confront existential threats to freedom. And Donald Trump said ours is radical Islam.”
Top neoconservative pundit Bill Kristol initially vociferously opposed Trump, going so far as to propose creating a “new party” if “Trump wins the GOP nomination.” After Trump clinched the nomination, Kristol continued to berate him, though his views appeared to soften. “If it were a domestic policy election, I probably would swallow hard and vote for Trump,” said Kristol in a July 2016 interview with Politico. “If it were a pure foreign policy election, I’d probably swallow hard and vote for Hillary Clinton.”
Commenting on the these reactions, Justin Raimondo of the libertarian Antiwar.comwrote: “Trump, for all his contradictions, gives voice to the ‘isolationist’ populism that [Sen. Marco] Rubio and his neocon confederates despise, and which is implanted so deeply in the American consciousness.”
Trump has spurred widespread criticism and condemnation for his racist rhetoric about immigrants. When he announced his presidential bid, Trump proclaimed: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Trump also expressed deeply Islamophobic views during his campaign. He referred to refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict as “one of the great Trojan horses.” He said that he would “strongly consider” shutting down mosques in the United States and would “certainly implement” a database tracking American Muslims. After the November 2015 San Bernardino shooting, he called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” This comment garnered intense criticism from across the political spectrum and across the globe. Even staunchly hardline figures like former Vice President Dick Cheney expressed dismay, arguing that Trump’s words went “against everything we stand for.”
Trump has sought to justify his calls to ostracize American Muslims by citing a survey conducted by the virulently Islamophobic Center for Security Policy (CSP), a group run by neoconservative ideologue Frank Gaffney. The CSP poll that Trump referenced claims that “25% of [American Muslims] agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad.” It has been widely dismissed by experts as having “dubious” methodology.
Trump has repeatedly instituted regulations to bar people from a list of Muslim countries from immigrating or even entering the United States. Despite legal challenges that have delayed some of Trump’s initiatives and in some cases, forced him to alter the parameters of the regulations, there has been a sharp decline in the number of visas granted to Muslims since Trump took office.
Trump has caused controversy with his reluctance to criticize white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, a march which resulted in the murder of a counter-protester.More recently, he provoked international outrage when he voiced objections to allowing immigrants from “shithole countries” into the United States. He was referring to Haiti, El Salvador, and the countries of Africa. He added a preference for immigrants from Norway, further demonstrating the racism at the heart of the comments.
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Donald Trump, Twitter, July 10, 2018, https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1016616792926703616
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Luke Baker, “Israel interprets U.S. settlements statement as green light,” Reuters, February 3, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-usa-settlements/israel-interprets-u-s-settlements-statement-as-green-light-idUSKBN15I1EJ
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Evan McMurry, “Trump on North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un: ‘You Gotta Give Him Credit’,” ABC News, January 10, 2016, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-north-korean-leader-kim-jong-gotta-give/story?id=36198345
Maggie Haberman, “Donald Trump Says He Favors Big Tariffs on Chinese Exports,” The New York Times, January 7, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2016/01/07/donald-trump-says-he-favors-big-tariffs-on-chinese-exports/
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Jessica Kwong, “Trump Says He ‘Probably’ Has A ‘Very Good Relationship’ With Kim Jong Un, Whom He’s Called A ‘Short and Fat’ ‘Madman’”, Newsweek, January 11, 2018, http://www.newsweek.com/trump-kim-jong-un-relationship-778999
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Choe Sang-Hun, “North and South Korea Set Bold Goals: A Final Peace and No Nuclear Arms,” New York Times, April 27, 2018,https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/27/world/asia/north-korea-south-kim-jong-un.html
Phil Helsel, Jonathan Allen and Dennis Romero, “Trump cheered at Michigan rally, roasted in absence at correspondents’ dinner,” NBC News, April 28, 2018, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/trump-bashes-media-claims-credit-korea-talks-michigan-rally-n869836
Mitchell Plitnick, “The Day After Leaving The Iran Deal,” Lobelog, April 27, 2018, https://lobelog.com/the-day-after-leaving-the-iran-deal/
Daniel Drezner, “Does Trump deserve credit for the Korea negotiations?” Washington Post, April 30, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/04/30/does-trump-deserve-credit-for-the-korea-negotiations/?utm_term=.aab0b10475b3
Max Greenwood, “Trump lavishes Kim with compliments after historic summit,” The Hill, June 12, 2018, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/391770-trump-lavishes-kim-with-compliments-after-historic-summit
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Mark Moore, “Trump slams critics of his North Korea summit,” New York Post, June 17, 2018, https://nypost.com/2018/06/17/trump-slams-critics-of-his-north-korea-summit/
Eric Schmitt, “Pentagon and Seoul Surprised by Trump Pledge to Halt Military Exercises,” New York Times, June 12, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/12/world/asia/trump-military-exercises-north-south-korea.html
Sarah Lazare, “Liberals Are Criticizing the Korea Summit From the Right. Here’s Why They Have it All Wrong.” In These Times, June 13, 2018, http://inthesetimes.com/article/21210/liberals-are-attacking-trump-from-the-right-on-north-korea.-heres-why-they
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Jennifer Rubin, “How Trump lost the summit before the photographers even left the room,” Washington Post, June 12, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2018/06/12/how-trump-lost-the-summit-before-the-photographers-even-left-the-room/?utm_term=.fe0aeab5542a
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Robert Windrem and William M. Arkin, “What Does Donald Trump Really Think About Using Nuclear Weapons?” NBC News, September 28, 2016, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/what-does-donald-trump-really-think-about-using-nuclear-weapons-n655536
Barry Blechman, “A Trillion Dollar Nuclear Weapon Modernization Is Unnecessary,” New York Times, October 26, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/10/26/a-nuclear-arsenal-upgrade/a-trillion-dollar-nuclear-weapon-modernization-is-unnecessary
Lisbeth Gronlund, “Nuclear Posture Review Policies Increase Risk of Nuclear War,” Union of Concerned Scientists, February 2 2018, https://www.ucsusa.org/press/2018/nuclear-posture-review-policies-increase-risk-nuclear-war#.WnpBfKhKuUl
Zeke Miller, “Donald Trump Stumbles on Foreign Policy Knowledge in New Interview,” Time, September 4, 2015, http://time.com/4022603/2016-election-foreign-affairs-international-relations-donald-trump-republican-nomination/
Max J. Rosenthal, “Donald Trump’s Wildly Contradictory Foreign Policy Speech in 5 Tweets,” Mother Jones, August 15, 2016, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/08/donald-trump-wildly-contradictory-foreign-policy-speech-5-tweets/
Yochi Dreazen, “Candidate Trump promised to stay out of foreign wars. President Trump is escalating them,” Vox, August 25, 2017, https://www.vox.com/world/2017/8/25/16185936/trump-america-first-afghanistan-war-troops-iraq-generals
David Corn, Trump Announces 88 Top Former Military Officials Backing Him. Romney Had 500,” Mother Jones, September 6, 2016, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/09/trump-miltiary-officials-letter-romney/
Michael D. Shear, “Colin Powell, in Hacked Emails, Shows Scorn for Trump and Irritation at Clinton,” New York Times, September 14, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/15/us/politics/colin-powell-emails-hack-donald-trump.html
David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman, “50 G.O.P. Officials Warn Donald Trump Would Put Nation’s Security ‘at Risk’,” New York Times, August 8, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/09/us/politics/national-security-gop-donald-trump.html
Felicia Schwartz, “Trump’s First Year: How Donald Trump Has Upended U.S. Foreign Policy,” Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-donald-trump-has-upended-u-s-foreign-policy-1516185000
Kaitlan Collins, Barbara Starr, Jeff Zeleny, Elizabeth Landers and Kevin Liptak, “Tensions escalate after Tillerson calls Trump ‘moron,’” CNN, October 5, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/04/politics/tillerson-trump-moron/index.html
Eliana Johnson, “Trump’s rebuke of McMaster was months in the making,” Politico, February 20, 2018 https://www.politico.com/story/2018/02/20/trump-mcmaster-tension-national-security-adviser-417110
Jen Kirby, “Trump’s Cabinet, ranked by how likely they are to get fired,” Vox, March 28, 2018, https://www.vox.com/2018/3/28/17131870/trumps-cabinet-carson-sessions-firing-rumors
Gordon Rapinski, “Bush Advisor Wolfowitz Says He’ll Likely Vote for Clinton,” Der Spiegel, August 26, 2016, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/paul-wolfowitz-says-he-will-likely-vote-for-clinton-a-1109639.html
Twitter, November 22, 2015 https://twitter.com/MaxBoot/status/668447756512456705?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw.
John Hayward, “Frank Gaffney: Trump’s ‘Reaganesque’ Foreign Policy Speech Defines ‘Existential Threat’ of ‘Sharia Supremacism,’” Breitbart News, August 17, 2016, http://www.breitbart.com/radio/2016/08/17/frank-gaffney-trumps-reaganesque-foreign-policy-speech-defined-existential-threat-sharia-supremacism/
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Justin Raimondo, “The War Party Lost the GOP Debate,” Antiwar, November 13, 2015, http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2015/11/12/the-war-party-lost-the-gop-debate/
Michelle Ye Hee Lee, “Donald Trump’s false comments connecting Mexican immigrants and crime,” The Washington Post, July 8, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/07/08/donald-trumps-false-comments-connecting-mexican-immigrants-and-crime/
Eli Clifton, “Obama Rejects GOP’s Islamophobic Statements,” LobeLog, November 16, 2015, https://lobelog.com/obama-rejects-gops-islamophobic-statements/
Gregory Krieg, “Donald Trump: ‘Strongly consider’ shutting mosques,” CNN, November 16, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/16/politics/donald-trump-paris-attacks-close-mosques/
Jenna Johnson and David Weigel, “Donald Trump calls for ‘total’ ban on Muslims entering United States,” The Washington Post, December 8, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2015/12/07/e56266f6-9d2b-11e5-8728-1af6af208198_story.html
Eli Clifton, “Meet Donald Trump’s Islamophobia Expert,” Foreign Policy, December 8, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/12/08/donald-trump-frank-gaffney-islamophobia-poll/
Eli Clifton, “Meet Donald Trump’s Islamophobia Expert,” Foreign Policy, December 8, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/12/08/donald-trump-frank-gaffney-islamophobia-poll/