The Trump Administration released a National Security Plan on Monday, December 18. The document highlights new strategies and ideas for how to handle growing powers like Russia and China, as well as how to deal with “rogue governments,” as they’re called in the brief, like Iran and North Korea, and at the core of the briefing is the principle of “America First.” Agree or disagree with the contents, the briefing is well-thought out and professional, which comes as a departure from Trump’s typical approach to diplomacy. It is precisely this jarring disconnect between the President and his administration that leaves a wake of mixed signals and confusing, contradictory foreign policy.
This discrepancy was shown in his speech given at the unveiling of said plan on Monday as he largely stuck to, according to the New York Times, “a campaignlike address, with familiar calls to build a wall along the southern border with Mexico and a heavy dose of self-congratulation.” This anecdote is the latest in a string of seeming contradictions that President Trump has created within his own administration. The result is the appearance of disunity, and very mixed messages both at home and abroad.
The new plan/speech combo is not the first time we’ve seen this incongruence between Trump and his administration, and so the question becomes: how does the Trump administration effectively balance between the presentable, rational diplomacy it is trying to convey and the “fire from the hip” tweet tirades of its figurehead? The answer? Not well, at least not historically.
Secretary Tillerson, for example, has been consistently undermined in issues pertaining to foreign policy, such as relations with North Korea. When Tillerson, acting in his duties as Secretary of State, attempted to reestablish lines of communication with Pyongyang, Trump tweeted “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man… Save your energy, Rex. We’ll do what has to be done!” The tweet severely undermined Tillerson’s diplomatic authority and seemed to be Trump’s way of publicly shaming his actions.
Another contradiction was what Steve Bannon later called “the biggest mistake in modern political history,” namely, the firing of FBI director James Comey. Comey was leading the investigation into any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The apparent cooperation of the campaign, transition team, and administration was cut in half by Trump’s decision to fire Comey, leaving more questions than answers for Mueller and the rest of the special counsel now in charge of the investigation. While this is not directly related to foreign policy, it does complicate our relationship with the Russian government, and provides an excellent example the undermining that the President has done in the past.
This disconnect is harmful for our foreign policy, and confusing for the American people. A lack of congruency is becoming a hallmark of this administration, and it remains to be seen how far-reaching the effects will be.
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