For Trump supporters right now surely you’re feeling pretty good? You were joyous Hillary lost. You may have hailed the Muslim-dominant country ban as basic common sense. Perhaps the responding chorus of complaint from Washington institutions and experts and other know-it-alls like judges, academics, corporate leaders, foreign governments, and former government officials is what you’d expect from losers. A new sheriff is in town, doing the business, so suck it up right?
His broad assault on an out of touch and unaccountable elite resonated really well with lots of voters. Surveys consistently showed a sizeable percentage of the American people wanted less military intervention, and were deeply sceptical about global economic arrangements that favoured a rich few.
In fact if you were not able to face a Hillary Clinton presidency, and wanted Trump simply because he would deliver smarter, more self-interested, more restrained, and above all more successful foreign policy, you should be deeply worried. Why? Because in just three weeks he has squandered the biggest opportunity of a modern president to put American foreign policy on a more solid footing. He has also united and empowered opposition at home and abroad in ways that would have been hard to imagine just months ago.
A President Trump that delivered what he promised would now be on the path to a more restrained and effective U.S. foreign policy. He could have affirmed his complete opposition to Bush-era “nation-building” military interventions, and wind down the drone strikes and targeted killings that have done little to reduce danger from terrorism.
He could have concluded that Afghanistan was a losing proposition, and stated when and how he would get the U.S. to disengage.
He could have set out an actual logic and a plan for decreasing tension with Russia, including decreasing armed border presences and nuclear arms.
He could have set out an actual plan to get Europe and parts of Asia to take more of the burden for their own defence.
He could have simply said to the entire Middle East that he was no longer their perpetual traffic cop and social worker and dealer, and re-set to neutral the U.S. stance between Saudi Arabia and Iran – and in doing so re-set U.S. tacit favouritism of one kind of Islam over another which drives so much Middle Eastern sectarian rage.
He could have told Israel that if they want one-state apartheid that badly, they will deal with the consequences on their own.
If he’s done any of that, he would have delivered on his promise of clearing away establishment beltway positions. After the foreign policy, diplomatic and military leadership had finished fainting, the U.S. would have stayed on an even keel and he might have been well positioned for re-election in 2020. Save us all.
Instead in three weeks he did none of those things. He picked several useless fights with China. He badgered the Australian Prime Minister, despite Australia supporting the U.S. from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq to Afghanistan shoulder to shoulder. He picked a pointless fight with the Mexican president. He rolled out an unlawful ban on Muslim immigrants, and did it on Holocaust Remembrance Day, as if a reminder of what a really strong state feels like again. He started sabre rattling with Iran. He had a nasty little hit in Yemen, even though no one can tell who’s good or bad there. He went even more incoherent on Russia and Putin.
Inside days, U.S. enemies have been handed powerful new arguments with which to embarrass, delegitimise, and undermine America’s image and reputation. It’s pretty weird to share this sentiment with William Kristol, David Frum, or Eliot Cohen.
Trump was supposed to be the one to sweep away the old, tired establishment triumphalism of the old era. For your entertainment, this is a personal neocon triumphalist favourite of mine from G. W. Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft, where he really Let the Eagles Soar.
Some of Trump’s supporters – both left and right – flocked to Trump because they were tired of the failed strategy of presumptive U.S. hegemony, and were worried that Hillary were going to repeat those same mistakes. They aren’t getting the fresh, restrained approach they were hoping for.
I would say it was “Sad!”, but it’s just tragic.