With Donald Trump wrapping up his first year in office, the evaluations of his foreign policy have been rolling in fast and furious. While there are some exceptions, assessments have been generally negative. On their regular Bloggingheads.tv show, “Drezburt,” political scientist Dan Drezner and Heather Hurlburt of the New America Foundation offer their take.
The entire episode is worth watching, but a couple highlights stood for me. In one, Hurlburt explains how Trump’s zero sum worldview creates incentives for other powers to adopt a similar zero sum mindset. In another, Drezner highlights an excellent essay by Elizabeth Saunders and James Goldgeier, which I’ve cited before, about how most foreign policy work is “invisible” and the consequences of failing to do that work will only be felt later.
I think this discussion gets the issue exactly right. Despite his erratic nature, I was never really worried that Trump was going to reach for the nuclear codes in response to an insulting comment from North Korea (though, I’ll admit, I became slightly more concerned after his “fire and fury” comments). The larger concern has always been the damage Trump would do over the long term to international norms, expected patterns of behavior that have developed since World War II at least in part due to American leadership, the ability of the United States to offer credible commitments, and the likelihood that states will seek cooperation with the United States instead of sidestepping it. The consequences of that damage is likely to last far longer than Trump’s tenure in the White House.