A Year In, Has Trump Dismantled US Foreign Policy As Feared?
What can we tell about US President Donald Trump's foreign policy a year later, is he really disengaging from the world as feared? According to David Petraeus at the Raisina Dialogue 2018, we shouldn’t go by the campaign he ran to make our judgement on this, we should instead follow the money and the actual policies implemented. Except, of course, the backing out from the Paris Agreement and the TPP, those were campaign promises on disengagement from multilateral fora that he apparently “had to keep”.
1. India – Continuing to strengthen ties
Trump has largely continued the trend of the US seeking a stronger relationship with India that began under the Bush administration. Under Trump, the US has emphatically reaffirmed India’s status as a strategic partner, and major defence partner.
David Petraeus, former CIA chief and retired US Army general officer, along with Admiral Harry Harris Jr, Commander of US Pacific Command, were in lockstep during the Raisina Dialogue held from 16-19 January this year – an annual multilateral meet in New Delhi on geopolitical issues – on the big role India had to play in the region. Far from pulling back, the US has now cemented the notion of the Indo-Pacific, as opposed to the Asia-Pacific, and appears to be committing itself to aligning with liberal democracies in the region – India, Japan and Australia in the Quad, for example – to counter an assertive China. At least here, there’s no hint of the isolationism that candidate Trump ran his campaign on.
2. Pakistan – Going further than previous administrations
The Trump administration has gone further than previous governments in censuring Pakistan – budgetary figures suggest the total amount withheld is as high as $1.2 billion, according to a Bloomberg report, as well as putting it on a watch-list of “religious freedom violators”.
This is good news for India, which wants to see stronger action against Pakistan to deter cross-border terrorism. But it’s also an affirmation that the US is not ready to pull out from the world order – it might be saving money by withholding aid and reimbursements to Pakistan, in line with the Trump administration’s ‘America First’ policy, but the goal is to affect a change in the way Pakistan functions and lessen the threat emanating from terrorists on its soil. Petraeus, speaking at Raisina, had this to say about Pakistan when an audience member asked why India was not being censured for its own ‘terrorist activities’ like Pakistan was:
“As director of the CIA and commander of ISAF, I never once heard the term ‘Indian state-sponsored terror’.”
3. China – A renewed focus
Despite the candidate Trump’s bombast against ‘globalism’ and multilateralism, it seems the US is committed to countering China in the Indo-Pacific, and particularly of relevance to India, in the Indian Ocean.
Leading the charge in actively seeking to promote an ‘open, free and transparent rules-based order’, the Quad countries made a show at the Raisina Dialogue of standing resolute against China’s increasing aggression. Admiral Harry Harris Jr said:
That’s a strong stance to take for an administration that rose to power on bombast against ‘globalism’ and multilateral efforts.
4. Afghanistan – No pull-out, more troops
Far from his campaign promise that he would pull all American troops out of Afghanistan, Trump has in fact committed more troops to the effort, and seems to be settling in for a long-term engagement in the region. Unlike the Obama administration though, Trump stresses he’s not there to nation-build. He will expect Afghans to take ownership of their country, and American troops will only be there to stop the country sliding back into the grip of the Taliban – however long that takes.
5. Syria – Daesh destroyed under his watch
No matter how much criticism he faced for the cavalier way in which he seemed to order the airstrikes on an airbase in Syria – in an interview later, seeming to forget which country he struck and instead going into detail about the chocolate cake he was eating when he ordered them – it was decisive action for a President who just a few months ago had waxed lyrical about the futility of engaging in foreign wars.
6. NATO – Still funding it
Despite Trump’s initial belligerence towards NATO, accusing member states of free-riding on the US’ largess and alleging inequitable burden-sharing, the US President quickly took a U-turn on that position a few months later, saying:
According to the US State Department, the Trump administration approved $3.4 billion in funding for the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) in 2017, with the 2018 budget request containing nearly $4.8 billion for ERI – compared to the $985 million authorised in 2015 and $789 million authorised in 2016. This increased funding to ERI, which partially funds Operation Atlantic Resolve...: