A New Era of Feckless Foreign Policy Leadership

Republican members of Congress were not shy about criticizing President Obama during his presidency, and foreign policy critiques were among their favorite lines of attack.

In many respects, Obama, a professorial intellectual not prone to “tough guy talk,” made himself an easy target. There were unmistakable foreign policy blunders during the Obama administration that Republicans were right to call out.

Most notably, his critics argue that it was Obama’s bungled backtracking on the “red line” threat to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad that further destabilized the Middle East and emboldened ISIS. The resulting leadership vacuum in war-torn Syria opened the door to Russia and allowed them to gain a foothold in the Middle East, after Obama had written them off previously as just a “regional power.”

Republicans in Congress are more than eager to turn the page on what they believe are many failed foreign policy decisions during the Obama administration. Unfortunately for them, the first two weeks of the Trump administration make it seem like the Obama administration will be looked at as the golden years of stable foreign policy.

Let’s just catalog the foreign policy blunders Trump has caused – or made worse – in his two short weeks as president.

Few imagined that Trump was going to have an especially cozy relationship with Mexico – a long-time U.S. ally – given his labeling of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals,” along with his insistence that Mexico will bankroll the much-heralded border wall. However, I doubt many thought that Trump would blow up relations with Mexico as swiftly as he has.

It is customary for a new U.S. president to meet with the Mexican president shortly after taking office, in a show of solidarity between these traditionally friendly allies. Such a meeting was in place between Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto and Trump during the early days of the Trump presidency.

The meeting was, however, abruptly cancelled by Peña Nieto after the two got into a Twitter spat over whether or not Mexico would, indeed, pay for the border wall.

In a subsequent phone call between the two, Trump further disparaged Peña Nieto and threatened to invade Mexico and have the U.S. military handle the “bad hombres down there.” Yes, I’m serious.  

Next up, another one of the United States’ staunchest allies – Australia.

Trump recently had a phone conversation with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in what should have been an easy layup of a conversation.

All Trump had to do was exchange pleasantries, talk about kangaroos, koalas, the nice golf courses in Australia, along with the other empty diplomatic platitudes that are typical of congratulatory calls between new leaders.

Instead, Trump berated Turnbull throughout the call for adhering to an Obama administration agreement to accept 1,250 refugees from Australia and boasted about his 2016 campaign win. The caustic conversation was reportedly ended early by Trump, but not until after Trump told Turnbull that the call was the worst of the four that he had had that day with a foreign leader, including a call with Vladimir Putin.

The call was such a diplomatic disaster that the ever-present thorn in Trump’s side, Sen. John McCain, had to call Turnbull to clean up Trump’s mess, and reiterate the unwavering support that the United States has for Australia.

Then there was Trump’s first sanctioned military mission as commander in chief. The elite Navy Seal Team 6 unit carried out a covert attack just days after Trump’s inauguration on a compound in Yemen, where suspected al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants were hiding out.

The mission did not go smoothly.

According to U.S. officials, Trump approved the mission “without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations.” The hastily carried out mission resulted in one dead Navy Seal, six injured U.S. military personnel, a crashed $70 million U.S. aircraft, and several civilian casualties – including women and children.

And I haven’t even touched upon Trump’s Muslim ban, his Russian appeasement or his apparent disregard for the NATO alliance.

Republicans who were giddy to rid themselves of the supposedly ineffective foreign policy of the Obama administration should be careful of what they wished for. Trump’s quick temper, inexperience, and lack of historical perspective have ushered in a new era of brainless, wayward foreign policy that few of them could have thought possible.

 

Sam was raised in our nation’s capitol and, for as long as he can remember, has always been an avid political junkie. In a former life, he worked as a staffer to a U.S. Senator. He now works as an economic development consultant in Atlanta, but moonlights as a freelance political writer as a way to scratch his political “itch.” He is a regular contributor to Political Storm.