Trump stump in foreign policy
Following the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president on Nov. 8, debate on his foreign policy priorities have become the trending topic with their repercussions for the United States and beyond. Although he never explained the details of his policy choices throughout the election campaign, his off-the-cuff remarks about several foreign policy issues such as the Iranian nuclear deal, U.S. commitments to European security, relations with Russia and China, Middle Eastern problems and so on provide some hints about the general directions he might lean toward. Obviously, he would not be able to do everything his whims dictate, since his tug-of-war with Congress and key Republicans, whether he likes it or not, will limit his policy choices, as well as his appointments to key positions.
He has already reiterated that his priority in the Middle East will be to intensify the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). As most Republicans have been criticizing the Obama administration’s hands-off policy in the region, it is safe to assume that a more dynamic policy line from the U.S. in Syria and Iraq can be expected. Such a policy might necessitate more alignment with Russia and the Bashar al-Assad regime. Although the previous administration also attempted to work with Russia in the region, Russia’s indiscriminate aerial bombardments, particularly in Aleppo, presaged a downturn in the cooperation.
A less scrupulous approach by the Republicans and Trump’s affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin might energize the cooperation between the two countries in Syria. A closer position to the al-Assad regime, however, could create tension with U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the region. Turkey, too, would not be too thrilled; but taking into consideration its recent repositioning toward the al-Assad regime through its growing connection with Russia, Turkey might choose to calibrate its position accordingly, especially if the Trump administration reduces its support for Kurdish groups.
Another hot topic for the Trump presidency would be the Iranian nuclear deal, agreed between the P5+1 countries (U.N. Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran on July 14, 2015, as President-elect Trump publicized his intention to renegotiate it. Though he does not wish to dismantle the deal entirely, reopening the issue might just lead to that. Such an attempt would, of course, be welcomed by the Israeli government, which considers the deal a historic mistake.
The mixed reactions by the European leaders to his election were the results of their position vis-à-vis the current populist trend reigning globally. While the representatives from far-right parties in several European countries have welcomed Trump’s victory, the reactions of foreign and defense ministers of the EU member states, who met this week to assess the transatlantic relationship in the wake of the U.S. elections, were somewhat cooler.
Trump’s statements on reducing the U.S. commitment toward its free-riding European allies and his benefit and cost analysis for the role of NATO have raised eyebrows, though many hope that his line, as a businessman with no experience in international politics and security, will change after the intensive briefings he is currently receiving.
Last but not the least, setting aside his admiration for the Russian president as a strong leader, Trump’s stance toward Russia and its recent belligerent foreign policy will shape both the U.S. position in international politics and its relationship with its allies globally. In a Republican-dominated Congress and the presidency, one should not be surprised to see the U.S.-Russian cooperation limited to the fight against ISIL. Thinking the contrary would be naïve.