Do not say Donald Trump the candidate hid his foreign-policy plans under a bushel, or that President-elect Trump did not hang in when faced with instant and severe resistance from the high priests and priestesses of the Washington orthodoxy. Trump said all along he intended to take a running whack at our liberal interventionists, who have reigned without serious challenge the whole of the post–Cold War era. Now President Trump is going about his business.
So are the liberal interventionists, but we will get to that later on.
If Trump’s policies abroad as we have them so far were stars in the sky, Greek shepherds would have no name for them. They do not make a coherent constellation. There are problems, naturally: Trump is not a progressive renovator of American foreign policy. But let us be clear on one point straightaway. The prevalent notion that Washington had it right on the foreign side before Donald Trump came along is beyond foolish—the indulgence of policy people who cannot think, media people too anxious about their jobs to think, and others who let these two sorts think for them. Once that is clear, so is this: There is continuity, inheritance, in Trump’s policy mix, and in such cases he hurtles down the same wrong road Barack Obama took. When Trump departs from Obama and his predecessors, he is more likely to go in the right direction, although he does not as often as he does.
A few commentators—those refusing to surrender to the created reality within which this nation is trapped—anticipated what we now witness in Washington. We cannot yet make out where Trump the grand strategist—ahem!—will take foreign policy. Consistency is not this man’s strong suit, and many questions are raised. But things come gradually into focus, nonetheless.
Trump’s foreign-policy people are all in place and getting on airplanes. State and defense scrap over Asia policy, per usual. (And the latter will probably prevail, per usual.) Michael Flynn, the retired general serving as national security adviser, seems to hold the Iran file, and I will return to that. But here is the big latke: The Russia portfolio sits on Trump’s desk. Relations with Moscow shape up as something like his premier foreign policy. If this is so, it is a good call. To be noted: Ever-mounting hostility toward Russia is the very linchpin of liberal interventionist thinking—font of fear, paranoia, security obsessions, blame games, and all else with which we insist on crippling ourselves. In this they are more or less one with standard neoconservatives or traditional conservatives such as John McCain—odd but no surprise. A brave prediction: Trump has a fight on his hands that will last as long as he stands his ground.
In my read, Trump’s January 28 telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin was the biggest development in the foreign-policy sphere since he took office. Two reasons: