White House Issues, Part 2: Foreign Policy

Since the last piece in this series was written, the Trump administration has been busy.  Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions were confirmed. POTUS signed at least five more executive orders into effect, including a proclamation that February is now American Heart Month, while floundering in attempts to recognize influential members of the black community during Black History Month. Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor. And lest we neglect it, the travel ban was set in place for seven countries, resulting in protests and courtroom questions about the ban’s constitutionality. The travel ban has arguably been the president’s most controversial action thus far, so it seems fitting to consider it, and other information, through the lens of the foreign policy stance outlined on the White House website, which can be read in its entirety here. 

One might consider the site’s statements about “peace through strength” to be the thesis of the administration’s foreign policy, followed by the expressed desire to foil and stem the tide of ISISthrough “work with international partners to cut off funding for terrorist groups, to expand intelligence sharing, and to engage in cyber warfare to disrupt and disable propaganda and recruiting.” It is hard to argue with objectives like those. Stopping terrorism and achieving peace are admirable, universally acceptable aims. But at what cost and by what means does our president aim to achieve these ends? It is not wholly clear, but the ban on a seemingly arbitrary set of nations- given that no fatal acts of terrorism on US soil have originated in those nations- without so much as consulting the legislative branch, certainly thickens the mire. (For a full list of terror attacks in the US since 9/11/01, consider this study from Ohio State University.)

The White House policy states, “we will rebuild the American military. Our Navy has shrunk from more than 500 ships in 1991 to 275 in 2016. Our Air Force is roughly one third smaller than in 1991. President Trump is committed to reversing this trend, because he knows that our military dominance must be unquestioned.” And this of course forces me to ask the question: is our military dominance actually questioned? Also, given the advances in mechanized warfare and military technology, is it necessary to have as many naval vessels and aircraft, or even as many personnel, as in the past? Should our focus, if it is turned toward military ventures at all, be upon hardware and the risk of soldiers’ lives, or should it be instead on intelligence and remote action? When one considers that the cost of one- ONE- “Ticonderoga Class” vessel, originally deployed in 1983, is (or was then)  $1 billion, I find it difficult to endorse such a costly endeavor. How can we afford to rebuild the Navy AND build a wall along the Mexican border? Where is the money tree planted and how much can I take for myself?

Further, does the vague nature of this statement unsettle anyone else? Particularly regarding how chummy Putin and POTUS appear to be: “The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies.” Call me a conspiracy theorist if you must, but I smell vodka and spray tan.

Beyond the military facet of foreign policy, the Trump administration claims they seek to create more jobs and opportunities for the American worker by ending old trade agreements and alliances that are not actually in the best interests of America’s work force. To that end, just nine days into his presidency, President Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While the TPP was certainly complex, and an Obama-era trade deal that unsurprisingly came under fire when Republicans took control, both parties concede that our withdrawal from the Partnership opens the door for China to completely dominate any and all Pacific trade, leaving the US at a disadvantage in the global market. Trump seems convinced that this action, and future trade deals negotiated with individual nations, will bring companies back to America, though how that will occur remains nebulous.

Speaking of international deals, the renegotiation of NAFTA is the big fish Trump aims to fry in regard to trade. When the deal was brokered in the early 1990’s, its opponents were concerned that the inclusion of Mexico would hinder rather than strengthen the US economy. Canada and the US were established, wealthy nations, while Mexico was considered a “developing” nation, and many feared that jobs would leave the US for cheaper sites in Mexico. These anxieties are just as relevant nearly thirty years later as Mexico still struggles to compete on the same economic stage as the US and Canada, but supporters of NAFTA are also still relevant in their reasoning.

If Mr. Trump is so concerned about the flood of “bad hombres” coming to the US from Mexico in search of work, doesn’t it work in the best interests of America to partner with Mexico and aid in strengthening their economy? Doesn’t it make more sense to offer more opportunities to Mexican workers in their own country than to grapple with waves of immigrants who are often exploited and abusively under paid, thus truly taking away jobs from American workers? I concede the argument for keeping jobs in America and developing our own industry to create living-wage-positions for our own people, and I don’t know if the answer is clear, but in the long run, it seems a more sound strategy to be diplomatic, to be the supportive neighbor that helps Mexico to stand on its own feet instead of letting it crash on your futon off and on for another twenty years.

The final point in the America First Foreign Policy asserts that “the President is appointing the toughest and smartest to his trade team, ensuring that Americans have the best negotiators possible. For too long, trade deals have been negotiated by, and for, members of the Washington establishment. President Trump will ensure that on his watch, trade policies will be implemented by and for the people, and will put America first.” To that end, I submit for your consideration this infographic, which though a couple months old and thus some nominations were speculative, encompasses the concerns that anyone with a shred of conscience should have about some of the president’s nominees.

So what do I think, as I consider the news and the WH website and the effect of my own conscience? Essentially, the president claims that America has too long been run by the Washington establishment, but it looks to this gal like he’s just traded out that crowd for the Wall Street establishment. I’m curious about which of these appointees send their kids to public school, or still drive a car made in the 1900’s, or work two jobs so that they can buy Christmas gifts.

For a president who promised to “drain the swamp,” it looks instead like he just swapped the gators for crocs and the mosquitoes dealing Zika for those carrying malaria. Neither breed of power is a representation of the people, so now only time will tell how long the working men and women who elected Trump will take to realize that he is not actually interested in lifting up the American worker. Instead it is becoming increasingly clear that Mr. Trump serves the interests of his own corporate assets as well as those of his friends in corporations or military-industrial businesses.