Magann: They’re Laughing at Us

America’s foreign policy is failing in the age of Trump.

by Matthew Magann | 5/10/18 2:10am

 President Donald Trump has made a grand show of the Iran nuclear deal. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, often referred to by its acronym JCPOA, enjoys broad international support. The JCPOA isn’t perfect, but it includes about as many concessions as the Iranians are willing to give. So far, the deal has worked, significantly decreasing Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons. And let’s not forget: the alternative to the JCPOA is not a better deal. The alternative is an unchecked Iran on a rapid path to a nuclear bomb.

Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration ignored all that. The president, seemingly unconcerned about the real-world impacts of his decision, caved to populist demands and abandoned the deal. Trump’s reckless move obliterated decades of diplomacy, putting Iran back on the path to nuclear weapons and the Middle East one step closer to war. The administration seems all too eager to go back on its word and compromise its national security because, frankly, the Iran deal has become a buzzword in domestic politics.

The Trump administration lacks any coherent foreign policy vision, preferring to throw out policy haphazardly as a means of building support. Of course, a number of America’s foreign Service officers, State Department experts and others still work to maintain our global standing, and for that they deserve immense praise. At the highest level, though, foreign policy has become a mere tool to build domestic support for the administration.

Consider Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Of all the nations of the world, only Guatemala and Israel itself have followed America’s lead. There’s good reason for that: Trump’s declaration threatened the viability of the two-state solution, and did nothing but inflame the already tense situation between Israelis and Palestinians. America’s long-held policy advocates two states, Israel and Palestine, coexisting in peace. Accordingly, despite domestic pressure to move the embassy, former presidents from both parties consistently refused to do so. They understood that the move, though popular within the U.S., would exacerbate conflict in the region and hurt the interests of America and its allies.

Unfortunately, popular support for an embassy move never went away. And unlike past presidents, who resisted domestic pressure in order to further American goals, Trump caved in.

Trump’s Jerusalem declaration undermined decades of U.S. policy and jeopardized America’s role as a mediator between Israelis and Palestinians. Of course, Trump presumably cared more about the pro-Israel image it gave him within the U.S. That sort of foreign policy, the kind which undertakes damaging actions abroad in order to curry domestic support, is incredibly dangerous for America.

The Trump administration’s foreign policy seems to be a reaction to popular buzzwords — end the Iran deal, support Israel, stop Assad, destroy ISIS — without much broader strategic vision. The administration launches missle strikes against Assad because the optics of inaction are bad. Yet Trump and his advisors don’t follow that up with any long-term strategy. Soon after, America turns to withdrawing from the JCPOA, a move that strengthens Iran and by extension its ally the Assad regime. This sort of haphazard, mob-rule foreign policy is intensely dangerous, both for its victims abroad and for the United States. Even as the American economy and military carry on, U.S. soft power diminishes with every irrational, soundbite-driven policy decision.

Today, with the rise of China, Russia’s increasing belligerence and a rapidly escalating Saudi-Iranian conflict that threatens to engulf the Middle East, America can hardly afford to surrender its mantle of global leadership. These years mark a significant challenge to the post-Cold War international order, yet under the current administration America is not there to defend itself or its values. President Trump campaigned on the false notion that other countries were “laughing at us” for America’s ineptness. That statement was clearly false at the time, but today it may just ring true. The Trump administration’s foreign policy blunders, including withdrawing from the JCPOA, have gravely compromised America’s global standing. The erosion of the U.S.’s international standing, more so than the endless scandals and crude remarks, may well be the most damaging legacy of the Trump administration.

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