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American foreign policy in Trump’s era

Feb 17,2020 - Last updated at Feb 17,2020

Since Donald Trump assumed his position as president of the United States of America in January 2017, major changes have begun to take place in terms of how foreign policy is formulated. For many specialists in the US foreign policy, there has been a major shift in goals and means. Some experts believe that they no longer understand how Washington really thinks. Some describe the American president as “pragmatic”, while others call him a “businessman”, given the fact that his foreign policies are designed to secure financial and business gains, which cannot be explained or even interpreted by strategists and ideologists as these moves are not dependent on a certain strategy which former US administrations followed. This is deemed the major shift in American foreign policy. 

To many, Trump outperforms US hardliners, mainly with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and he is even trying to isolate his country externally by asking his allies in the West and in the East for prepayment as he promised his constituents. As for how foreign policy is made, Trump looks like the one who orchestrates this prospect solely in contrast with previous administrations. Throughout American history, this has never been as clear it is right now. A panoramic view of Trump’s rule can be summarised as following: 

First, Trump has always used the credibility and reliability elements with his allies in Europe, Asia and the Gulf states. He has reiterated that his country cannot protect them because he does not want to involve the US in major external conflicts, and this has increased risks for allies, who feel that they either accept American terms or will encounter greater risks and threats.  

Second, Trump has been too much anxious to demonise Iran and other countries, threatening to act militarily against Tehran for its expansionist policies; yet, he has also retreated suddenly, leaving his allies perplexed.

Third, there has been a loss of balance between decision-making institutions in foreign policy and national security: Technocrats in the State Department and the US Department of Defence no longer have much to do: They no longer make decisions, but only implement them. It has been quite clear that anyone opposing the American president is replaced easily by others as many examples show:  President Trump ousted Rex Tillerson, replacing him with Mike Pompeo, the CIA director and former Tea Party congressman, who forged a close relationship with the president and is viewed as being more supportive of Trump’s “America First” policy.

Since 2017, the White House has become incapable of working on a balanced American policy including the “Deal of the Century” which started first with full recognition by the US of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and subsequently moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem even before the final settlement is reached between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Moreover, when the Americans announced the deal in early February 2020, they voiced their recognition of Israel's annexation of the occupied territories of the Golan Heights and other areas of the West Bank. 

For many, Trump lacks interest in traditional diplomacy or international multilateral diplomacy, which is quite clear with Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran and the Paris Climate Agreement. This paradox in American foreign relations is quite clear in troubled relations with Washington's allies in the EU and NATO, the US’ economic partners like China, American relations with Russia and the president’s excessive confidence in North Korea.

American foreign policy-making institutions have a great heritage of Iraq and the ability to make policies and achieve goals rationally and in multiple ways. They are a mixture of hard and soft power known as "smart power".  The Middle East is a volatile arena, aggravated by super power interference. Neither regional regimes are able to establish modern democracies that meet the demands of their peoples that arise from time to time demanding political reform, nor are opponents permitted to bring about real political change, a step forward for public freedoms and respect for human rights. 

Trump has a nationalist mindset unlike his predecessor Barack Obama whose mentality was global. Trump praises the nation-state, and considers it as the basis of movement in his policy, and that national interests are of utmost importance. His handling of foreign policy issues is based on a link between how America is involved in the world's issues, and the Middle East region in particular, and the amount of economic benefits that can be achieved. He is thus unable to realise that political and strategic interests are based on the principle of mutual interests, and not on the accounts of material benefits.

Trump's statements indicate that he is directing a change in the orientations of American foreign policy, with a tendency towards isolationism. The change in American foreign policies entails the scope of mechanisms, such as the use of military force against terrorism, or imposing sanctions against some countries, such as Iran. A group of vested interests in the US constitute the foundation for its policy in the Middle East, and this will remain among the priorities of the Trump administration in the future.

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