Much of Trump’s international engagement has been a hodgepodge of impulsive and contradictory actions. To the extent there is a Trump doctrine, it amounts to this: Use tariffs, sanctions and other means of economic pressure to compel U.S. adversaries and, as often, allies to accede to White House demands. This has not worked. First, Trump set wildly unrealistic goals. Trump’s next mistake was assuming that unilateral U.S. action was enough to succeed, and that he didn’t need the international cooperation obtained by previous presidents. Trump’s biggest miscalculation was that economic weapons were enough to strong-arm the likes of Kim, Khamenei and Maduro. But these dictators only care for their own survival and that of their extreme ideologies.

  1. Trump promised to end the interminable wars that began in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and to make a fundamental change in US dealings with the world but U.S. troops still remain in Afghanistan. And Syria. And Iraq.
  2. Trump's gambit to reach a deal with North Korea's Kim Jong Un has yielded nothing. Maximum pressure was supposed to induce the regime of Kim Jong Un to surrender its entire arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. North Korea is still building them and it has now publicly sworn off any further negotiations with the Trump administration.
  3. Trump and members of his party like to talk tough about China, but that mainly appears motivated by domestic political considerations, including the need for a coronavirus scapegoat. Of all the Trump administration’s foreign policy failures, it is hard to think of one more comprehensive or consequential than its China policy. It  is hard to think of a single aspect of Sino-American relations that has evolved favorably for the United States. The bilateral trade deficit is now around the same size as when Trump took office. U.S. goods exports to China have fallen every year since 2017. Manufacturing jobs have not returned to the United States. Most of China’s nefarious trade and cyber practices have continued or even expanded. The narrow “phase one” trade deal Trump announced in January did little more than lift some of the tariffs Trump had imposed on American importers in exchange for Chinese promises to purchase more American goods that will almost certainly never be fulfilled. Internationally, China has reneged on its commitments to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and continued to expand its military activities in the South China Sea. It has sunk or harassed ships from Vietnam, Malaysia, and Japan, confronted India militarily over a disputed border, launched multiple cyber-attacks against Australia and done little to support U.S. diplomacy on North Korea and Iran. Meanwhile, China is domestically increasing repression and brutally imprisoning nearly a million Uighurs in Xinjiang, with Trump’s apparent approval. Trump’s decision to blame China for tens of thousands of American deaths from what he now calls “the China plague” and the “Kung Flu” is unlikely to improve matters. Far from forging either a better relationship or reaching a better trade deal, the two countries now risk sliding into a new form of Cold War that could deeply damage U.S. interests or even lead to a devastating military conflict. There is the impossible task of building a coherent and consistent approach to China out of an incoherent and inconsistent set of administration positions and actions.
  4. Diplomacy around the world is barely functional as the diplomatic corps has been hollowed out and because Trump himself regularly and gratuitously insults allies while praising dictators in return for nothing at all.
  5. Trump administration has gone out of its way to align the United States more one-sidedly than ever before with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
  6. The President expanded American involvement in the Saudi war in Yemen.
  7. The President made the decision to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal and impose rounds of sanctions on Tehran. The latter, in particular, has accomplished less than nothing, with bilateral relations between the U.S. and Iran at something close to an all-time low. Maximum pressure was going to force Iran to renegotiate the curbs on its nuclear program and maybe cause the regime to collapse. But the regime has ruled out negotiations with Trump.
  8. In Venezuela, Trump cut off the income stream of oil revenues confident it would cause the collapse of a socialist dictatorship already in economic and political free fall. Instead, the regime of Nicolás Maduro appears to have stabilized. The lights are back on in Caracas, once-empty stores are full of goods, and the U.S.-backed opposition has been ousted at least physically from the National Assembly. Trump’s demand that Maduro leave office and make way for fresh elections won’t be realized anytime soon.
  9. Transatlantic relations are at a new low. There is little left to the relationship but a bitter taste for EU leaders who spent three years trying and failing to coast and cajole Trump into buying the Western alliance. The administration has never sought to engage Europe. Amid the corona virus, things have gotten worse. In Brussels and other EU capitals, recent events have only confirmed the genuineness of Trump’s instincts regarding transatlantic relations i.e. to treat America’s closet allies as punching bags. EU leaders also have little hope that outstanding trade disputes will be resolved before the November election. European Commission President Ursula von der Reyen has not visited Washington since taking office on December 1.

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