When President Obama took office, members of his administration let leak a motto he had adopted for the conduct of his foreign policy: "Don't do stupid s--t." The result was a passive approach to the world which resulted in the United States being viewed with contempt by allies and enemies alike.
But it seems as if President Trump's foreign policy will make Mr. Obama look like Genghis Khan. He seems to be actually afraid of the world. When he announced a new immigration policy yesterday that will treat our friends in the Muslim world exactly like our enemies and trap persecuted human beings in the grip of their persecutors, a wail of consternation understandably arose. Mr. Trump's response? "The world is still a mess. The world is as angry as it gets. What, you think this is going to cause a little more anger? The world is an angry place." And it is that. The problem is that his foreign policy promises to make if far angrier and far messier. It's not so much insulating us from the fire as pouring gasoline on it.
One does not solve problems by refusing to deal with them.
At least President Trump isn't barring all Muslims from immigrating, as he proposed during the campaign. Instead, he's severely curtailing immigration from Muslim-majority countries- and not just those in which ISIS and al Quaeda are active. A theme seems to be emerging in Mr. Trump's view of the world, a theme obvious in his otherwise disjointed and often incoherent campaign statements about foreign policy and his evocation of the discredited motto of the isolationists of the Hitler era, "America First.".
As David Brooks writes in The New York Times, Mr. Trump's foreign policy is essentially a foreign policy of fear, and even cowardice. Americans once met the world with confidence and dealt with it with strength. But no more, it seems. America since World War II has filled a role which historically somebody has always had to fill in order to prevent the world descending into chaos; the leader of the international order, the biggest kid on the block who could provide direction, leadership and sometimes muscle to keep the bad guys from running amok and plunging the globe into chaos. For a long time, the British played that role. But when Clement Atlee- in many ways the Donald Trump of English history- decided that appeasement was the way to deal with Hitler and let the bad guys have their way, the world descended into the most destructive war in its history.
No, actually that's not fair- to Atlee. Atlee was more the Obama of English history than the Trump. He remained engaged with the world. He simply wimped out on the role it depended on England to play. Trump goes far beyond that. He has revived the illusion which paralyzed America during the period leading up to World War II, the illusion that our separation by two oceans from the rest of the world provides us with the opportunity to remain aloof from it.
That proved to be delusional in the 1940's, and it's even more so today. The world is economically interdependent to an extent that Mr. Trump, for all his vaunted business acumen, seems not to understand. Former Mexican president Vincente Fox summed up the obvious and inevitable response of his country to the abusive treatment of the Trump administration quite matter-of-factly: "We have China to trade with." Even Fox News, which has become the electronic Pravda or Volkischer Beobacher of the Trump regime, acknowledges that Mr. Trump's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement opens the door to China- carefully excluded from the deal by the Obama administration- not only to step in and take over our role in Asia's economy but to extend its influence throughout the Pacific region. The withdrawal of the United States from the TTP seems to be the first step in the termination of America's role as a Pacific power. Mr. Trump's actual approval of Russia's aggression in the Crimea raises questions as to what, if anything, he is prepared to do when Russia tries to re-take the Baltic nations. And our friends in Asia must now begin to wonder whether they are in any better shape.
President Fox's statement foreshadows the future. When the United States ceases to be a reliable trading partner and ally, smaller nations will seek others. The Trump administration's policy of withdrawal from the world will ultimately end up simply marginalizing the United States, weakening its economic and political influence and ironically demoting America from its preeminent place in the world to that of an also-ran. It will make China first, not America.
Cowardice is not a position of strength. Incoherent and erratic egotism is not an adequate foreign policy. And Donald Trump's apparent determination to run away from the challenges of involvement with the world will only make America a weaker, poorer and progressively more vulnerable a nation.