THOSE WHO have relied on cable TV as their primary source of news over the past few months may be forgiven for believing that, beyond the impeachment of Pres. Donald Trump, not much else has been going on. The impeachment obsession has allowed too many journalists to stop reporting or thinking about the world around us.
In the early Democratic presidential debates, the moderators asked very few questions about foreign policy. When the issue did come up, the candidates took their obligatory swipes at Trump and left the matter at that.
Foreign policy has become an afterthought in this presidential campaign, even as the world grows more complicated and dangerous. The Cold War paradigm is long obsolete. Even the post 9/11 paradigm that puts the threat of radical Islam front and center needs revision. Radical Islam now is just one of several daunting challenges.
Trump's "America First" campaign slogan spoke to a long-simmering desire to ease our worldwide responsibilities that appeared unending and unappreciated. It was part of his political appeal. As president, he unapologetically has told the world that the U.S.'s interest will come first. Although speaking bluntly and thinking he was saying something new, American interests long have dominated our foreign policy.
Placing "America First" does not preclude the stark reality that U.S. interests cannot be separated from its global responsibilities. Trump was not oblivious to that fact. He increased the military effort to destroy the ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria; sent lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine; deployed a battle group to Poland; and tightened sanctions on Russia and Iran. His blustering about the lack of burden sharing among the NATO allies brought many to increase their defense contributions.
On the other hand, Trump's shoot-from-the-hip policy announcements are unnerving and erratic, such as the sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops from Kurdish territories in Syria and the use of tariffs against adversaries and allies alike.
Trump seems to believe that his finesse in the real estate business--where charm, reputation, and promises matter--could be carried over to international diplomacy. Such things matter little to ruthless characters such Russia's Vladimir Putin, Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, China's Xi Jinping, and North Korea's Kim Jong-un.
Trump seems to believe that having buddy-buddy meetings and letting them run their own brutal dictatorships without interference from us will...