The first chapter of Trump’s presidency has been an eventful one. With Gorsuch confirmed and recent executive decrees, whether you like it or not, it’s clear that this presidency will be defined by change. This change, however, won’t solely manifest itself on the domestic level. As a matter of fact, given recent, drastic changes in global politics – and the Trump administration’s subsequent responses to them – this presidency could very well be characterized by its foreign policy.
This past week has been bustling with activity. With US involvement in Syria and different levels of conflict arising across the globe, the Trump administration is receiving its first test in executing foreign policy. And, while it may be a little early for any lasting impression on the Trump administration as a whole, there are several areas for concern.
Take Syria. The United States’s lack of precision in defining its goals and foreign policy within the area has been an area of concern for many of its allies. As Jonathan Marcus of BBC News observed:
“[When] Asked if air attacks with conventional weapons might also draw US punitive action, [Sean Spicer] said: ‘If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb into innocent people, you will see a response from this president.’”
While the former is consistent with current US policy in Syria – for example, after footage of chemical weapons use in Syria was exposed, the United States acted – the latter muddles whether the Trump administration has truly been consistent with its foreign policy goals. For, barrel bombs both meet conventional warfare standards and have been happening in Syria for the past several years, long before footage of the chemical attack was released. The issue here is simple: when the United States outlines certain behavior as ‘unacceptable,’ but has consistently failed to act against it previously, an inconsistency arises that hinders effective policy.
This lack of clarity has already made a mark on the current situation, as coordinated diplomacy between the United States and its European allies has been characterized by the lack thereof. For instance, the failure for the G7 Nations to outline a unified course of action against Russia for its support of the Assad regime demonstrates the ambiguous nature of the original agenda. Since each individual nation has its own interpretation on the situation and ties to Russia, the United States must act as a guiding figure to establish international precedents which these countries can follow. But, under Trump, the United States has failed to step up into this role.
The Trump presidency still has a long way to go, And, the stakes are only getting higher: global events such as North Korea’s nuclear arms, the Islamic State, and Russian aggression are back under the media’s radar. Luckily, time can provide a catalyst for improvement. And, going forward, a powerful role-model Trump should refer to is Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower. While dealing with domestic programs from highway infrastructure to the Civil Rights movement, Eisenhower was able to advance a clearly defined foreign policy agenda in the midst of the Cold War. By clearly defining what role the United States will play in global politics and its stance on the spread of communism, Eisenhower was able to strengthen US influence in a meaningful way, resolving the Suez Canal crisis but veering away from pointless intervention in Indochina.
Overall, these past hundred days will not be those that define Trump’s presidency, but the situations Trump currently faces may be. By redefining the United States’s foreign policy goals and consequently those of its allies, the Trump administration has a unique opportunity to establish a new set of global precedents. However, if current inconsistencies in foreign policy become a habit, there may be catastrophic consequences, not just on Syria but on the entire global political order. Nevertheless, the future remains open, and all we can really do is hold tight and hope for the best.