Has Trump Altered the Course of American Foreign Policy?

Jacob Heilbrunn

WHEN DONALD Trump delivered his first and only major foreign policy address of the 2016 campaign on April 27 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, he indicated that it was time for a fundamental change in America’s approach to both its allies and adversaries. Now that the 2020 presidential campaign has begun in earnest, it’s worth looking back at that speech to measure how far he has met the goals that he set. Has Trump profoundly altered the course of American foreign policy? Or has he been a study in inconsistency?

At the outset of his 2016 speech, he declared that it was time to “shake the rust off America’s foreign policy.” He proposed to remove it by pursuing a policy of America First that would usher in a shiny new nationalism. To be sure, Trump pointed to the Cold War as an era of American greatness. But he argued that the very triumphalism that had emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall set the stage for the disasters that ensued in the Middle East, when the George W. Bush administration set out on a quixotic quest to transform the region overnight into a bastion of Western-style democracies. The problems were only compounded by President Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya. According to Trump, “each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos and gave isis the space it needs to grow and prosper. Very bad.” He also noted that these actions had created a vacuum that allowed Iran to expand its reach and influence.

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