Trump’s Foreign Policy: Peace Through a Big Stick
One of the peculiarities of the 2016 Presidential Election was the public’s utter detestation for then-candidate Donald Trump. Not Donald Trump as the avatar for some unpopular political movement, but the man himself. He was— and is — disliked by Democrats because he promised to virtually reverse the entire Obama project. Whether or not he will follow through is subject to debate.
The Grand Old Party didn’t like his past flirtations with liberal figures and ideas and remains hostile to his reckless Tweeting habits. The “mainstream media” continues to have a field day with his coarseness, brashness, and utter lack of concern for the unwritten political institutions by which candidates have abided since the late 19th Century.
With all of this outside noise, it is difficult to ascertain exactly what the President’s political philosophy is, particularly in regards to foreign policy. We have seen him act in this arena numerous times, but inevitably the conversation devolves into ad hominem attack or making excuses for a particularly harsh Tweet. There is little discussion outside of academic scholarship of the President’s political philosophy.
President Trump appears to see the world through a Hobbesian lens — that is, that our world is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” and the only way to combat this unfortunate reality is to establish a force bigger than men and impervious to these corruptions — a Leviathan — to maintain order. Such is the lens through which President Trump appears to view the role of the United States in world, blending Roosevelt’s “speak softly and carry a big stick” with Reagan’s “peace through strength” mentality.
From the travel ban to the border wall, President Trump is shifting the United States’ role in world relations from reactionary to preventative, if not inflammatory. Take, for example, the most recent update to the “travel ban.” Under the new security and cooperation standards, Chad, a now-former U.S. security partner, no longer meets requirements to have visa relations with the United States. Trump supporters would most likely call this move preventative, keeping the U.S. safe based on standards, rather than waiting for threats to arise. Critics have labeled these measures everything from racist to inflammatory to treasonous.
And these criticisms may not be entirely without merit — to be sure, the President has taken action or used rhetoric that has been followed by adverse consequences.
This forces commentators to face what’s known as the Fundamental Problem of Causal Inference: we cannot observe an individual both receiving the treatment and not receiving the treatment at the exact same moment in time. That is, we cannot know what would have happened — if anything — if the President had not preempted the feared action. Evaluating preemptive measures on their merits is difficult because they are preemptive — we cannot know whether the threat would have risen or risen with as much magnitude if the measures had not been taken.
Hindsight might be 20/20, but foresight is legally blind. It’s impossible to know whether North Korea would have launched its latest missile test if the President had not used “locked and loaded” rhetoric. Evidence points to the rogue nation continuing to be just that — rogue, regardless of U.S. or U.N. rhetoric — but there is no way of knowing.
Still, the President’s foreign policy stances, much like his campaign style, have managed to ostracize individuals from every corner of the political arena. Libertarians do not like his involved, Hobbesian approach.
Democrats argue that the travel ban is racist. And Republicans probably just wish someone would change his Twitter password.