Foreign policy under President Donald Trump seems to be operating on an IBS mode.
I am not referring here to Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Rather, I am thinking of three hallmarks of Trump’s approach to the world.
In Trump’s international relations, the “I” stands for incoherence, “B” for bluster, and “S” for shoddiness. We can see all three in the Trump team’s responses to North Korea’s nuclear threat.
Foreign Policy Incoherence
After North Korea’s missile test, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley mustered an apt response. At the UN Security Council August 5, all 15 members passed a resolution slapping sanctions on North Korea. Diplomacy seemed to be ascendant.
Three days later, on August 8, Trump promised to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if they continued to threaten the United States. Naturally, North Korea responded with a threat to attack Guam. We started to “ponder the unthinkable” nuclear attack.
Meanwhile, Trump’s cabinet members continued to play “good cop, bad cop.” On August 9, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to calm fears and said, “Americans should sleep well at night.” However, Secretary of Defense James Mattis warned North Korea that it should think again about “destruction of its people.” Bluster is dominant again.
Foreign Policy Bluster
Is threatening North Korea, the way Trump did, really the right approach?
On August 8, Trump warned North Korea not to make any more threats to the US after North Korea had threatened to attack the US. Via Twitter Wednesday, Trump continued his blustery language, boasting of US nuclear power.
North Korea is like an annoying kid who has managed to get his hands on an AK-47. Trump’s approach is similar to the older gangster who threatens the kid with a rocket launcher. The exchanges between Trump and North Korea were rightly called exchanges of “schoolboy rhetoric.”
Earlier, on April 2, Trump warned that if China didn’t restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the US would be willing to take steps on its own. In the same month, Vice President Mike Pence cautioned North Korea not to test US military strength.
Foreign Policy Shoddiness
Of course, smart foreign policy needs military power. But it also needs competent staff who can chart realistic options.
By contrast, Trump’s foreign policy is shoddy. Centralized foreign policy in the White House means amateurs make sloppy foreign policy. Not only that, these amateurs then have naïve and unrealistic expectations.
No State Department or other international relations experts gave input into Trump’s “fire and fury” statement, according to some reports. Actually, there are no senior North Korea experts in the decimated State Department.
Foreign policy professionals could have advised Trump on China’s limited influence on North Korea. The naïve Trump team seemed to think China could deter North Korea from its nuclear program. Indeed, one Trump senior adviser seemed to think Trump’s tweets would influence China.
This is the dismal state of our foreign policy. Now, stress is one cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. With luck, that might be the worst effect on us from Trump’s IBS approach to foreign policy.