“If Trump’s first year was unnerving but largely uneventful (internationally), there is reason to think his second will be considerably more difficult.” These words come from the March/April 2018 “Foreign Affairs” lead article by Eliot A. Cohen entitled, “Trump’s Lucky Year: Why the Chaos Can’t Last”.
Cohen is a Republican and a professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He has repudiated Trump’s presidency for two reasons: his character and his tendency toward populist isolationism.
During his first year in office, Trump has not moderated his warlike rhetoric, based his decisions on facts, or changed his perspectives on international commitments and trade.
He has attacked world leaders on Twitter and publicly criticized his Secretary of State, among others. At the same time, he has sidled up to autocratic dictators el-Sisi of Egypt and Duterte of the Philippines.
Cohen characterizes Trump as “a highly obnoxious version of the Republican normal.” Trump has increased the Defense budget and used force to punish Syria’s al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons by launching a missile strike against a military air strip. The President has enthusiastically committed to allies Israel and Japan, but grudgingly to European countries. All these actions put Trump within traditional GOP parameters.
Cohen attributes President Trump’s foreign policy thus far to good luck and his staff’s resistance to his plans, not to his growing maturity and experience. How long his more cautious staff will stay on is an open question. Nowhere in the world, according to the author, has seen improvement as a result of Trump’s actions. Eventually though, Cohen believes, Trump’s luck will run out and the chickens will come home to roost.
Cohen gives credit for international stability to a 70-year tradition of governmental consensus. This keeps Trump’s decisions and actions in check. Changing governmental inertia is as difficult as turning around a supertanker. This was aided by Congressional restraints and judicial decisions that have reined in his decisions about immigration and DACA.
Trump blames resistance to his goals on the bureaucracy’s “deep state,” calling to mind the Turkish military influence on their nation 30-plus years ago. Part of the slowness to change comes as a result of Trump’s tardiness in hiring. He has filled only 40 percent of the open positions thus far. This means the decisions are being made by the staff of the previous administration.
Cohen believes the world is a lot more dangerous in 2018 with the North Korean threat and the clear intervention of Russia into American politics. President Putin has become increasingly authoritarian. China’s Xi Jin Ping’s ascension to lifetime dictator expands on that trend.
While Trump should be given credit for the defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the situation there has become more complex, with the increasing possibility of an accidental clash between Russian and American forces. ISIS has not disappeared. It has merely become a shape-shifting insurgency, popping up in Afghanistan, Iran, and the Philippines. In addition, Israel has increased attacks against both Iranian allies al-Assad and Hezbollah in Syria. Saudi Arabia is feeling very threatened by a rising Iran and is frustrated by its interminable war in Yemen which is aided by the Iranians.
The war in Afghanistan is not going well, and the Taliban now controls 70 percent of the country. It carries out devastating attacks in Kabul. As I stated in an earlier column, we are losing the war in Afghanistan, and the President has no solution for it.
Recently, another Trump advisor resigned over his strong objections to increasing the tariff on steel and aluminum. Republicans in Congress are concerned that their hard efforts to increase the economy in this election year through the tax cut will be subverted by the new tariffs.
Trump believes that he has accomplished great things internationally his first year. Cohen strongly disagrees. Instead, Trump has demoralized governmental institutions that he needs to be an effective leader. The biggest disappointment for Cohen is that Trump has failed to mature.
Trump claims his first year as a success due to his leadership. Cohen claims that it was luck that has kept us from a major international crisis. He ends his article by saying, “And there is a good chance that 2018 will be the year Trump’s luck runs out.” Maybe the new tariff on steel and aluminum will be the tipping point. Let’s hope that Cohen is wrong, and that Trump’s and the nation’s luck will hold internationally.
Richard Elfers is an adjunct professor at Green River College and columnist for Reporter newspapers.