U.S. needs change in current approach to foreign policy
There is a lot of rhetoric surrounding the unprecedented nature of the current regime’s foreign policy “strategy.” I put that in quotes because the United States hasn’t had a proper foreign policy since 9/11, and arguably hasn’t had one since the Gulf War. But even in both the post-Cold War and post-9/11 era, there was a degree of predictability that the U.S. had followed since the end of World War II. Currently, the U.S. sits in a unique position as the Trump administration has thrown all those precedents out the window.
As for what those precedents are, it’s good to briefly understand U.S. foreign policy up until the current regime. During the Cold War, the goal was to contain communism. After the USSR’s dissolution, the goal shifted to maintain their hegemony in a unipolar world. After 9/11, the focus became counter-terrorism. Regardless of whether or not you agree with any of the U.S.’s tactics (and there is a lot to disagree with in each era), the nation has maintained a sense of its traditional allies and at least held some respect for regional and multilateral treaties and trade deals.
Under Trump, allies like Canada and the European Union have been tariffed in the name of national security, and the regime hasn’t agreed to adhere to many of the agreements it was a part of or had committed to. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why. Trying to understand Trump’s mentality is about as futile as the war on terror. But the actual policy is no different than what the U.S. has been engaging in for decades.
Although the U.S.’s self-imposed responsibility as one of the world’s leading powers is to maintain peace and stability, there are countless examples throughout history that prove otherwise. Propping up puppet dictators and governments in Guatemala, Iran, Chile, and Congo, failing to act on the Rwandan genocide, starting the Iraq War, the drone strike program, and the collapse of the Syrian chemical weapon red line are some examples of the failure of the U.S. to promote peace and stability. If anything, U.S. foreign policy seems more like shots in the dark hoping for the best rather than strategically calculated moves. In short, the U.S. is more an agent of disorder than an agent of order.
Trump’s foreign policy is no different, though he goes about it in less “traditional” ways. His exercise of hard power seems to be more in line with a businessman trying to portray himself as strong and trying to get the other players to call his bluff or fold. Everything he does is designed to gain political points for his base in some way. The randomness of the Chinese trade war, forcing allies to “contribute their share” to the world, and praising or meeting dictators historically considered enemies are all shots in the dark to mask the fact that the rest of his policy is continuing what the U.S. has been doing for a long time now.
Frankly, the U.S. has lost a lot of goodwill over the years. Any international sympathy or political points gained after 9/11 have been exhausted, and it’s time for the nation to re-evaluate its foreign policy strategy. It surely won’t happen under this administration, but whoever the next president is will have to deal with a world that is quickly changing. With the threat of climate change around the corner, the rise of multiple powers like China, India, and Russia, and an interconnected international system, the U.S. needs to establish its priorities.
For starters, the U.S. needs to scale back its hard power usage. While hard power is a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, it has been abused to the point where it causes more problems than good. This includes getting rid of the drone program, minimizing direct involvement in the war on terror, and reducing mass surveillance. Hard power should be used to intervene in genocides, not to cause one in the name of global security and democracy. In addition, the U.S. needs to take initiative on international climate actions.
This is an issue that should be uniting the world. The U.S. taking a hardline stance in favor of international climate action will not only be beneficial in the long term for obvious reasons but could potentially bring about some stability by having a chance to collaborate with China, a country that has already has made more promises to climate plans than the U.S. currently has. Most importantly, the U.S. needs to do a better job of accepting its mistakes and rebuilding its soft power and diplomatic ties. This will help in rebuilding goodwill, especially with nations in Southwest Asia and North Africa (I refuse to call it the Middle East).
Reforming decades of bad foreign policy is not an easy task, and it would be much easier for the U.S. to continue as it has for a while. The suggestions above are easier said than done, especially after the rhetorical damage the Trump regime has caused. The U.S. needs to get rid of the attitude that everything in this world are zero-sum and that every action exists in a bubble. If the U.S. wants to continue being the world leader it thinks it is, it should start acting like one.