A Foreign Policy Pivot? I Wouldn’t Bet On It

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Tom Wright makes the case that Trump is about to make a “foreign policy pivot”:

Trump wants to write a new chapter, closing the one marked “Militarism and Maximum Pressure” and opening one called “Dealmaking and the Pursuit of the Nobel Peace Prize.” He wants a summit with Iran’s leaders and deals with the Taliban, Kim Jong Un, and Vladimir Putin on arms control. He does not care about most of the details, as long as he gets the credit.

Few of his officials are particularly enthusiastic about this pivot, but led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, they accept it and will seek to shape it.

The pivot metaphor has been used many times during Trump’s presidency to describe an impending change in direction, but the pivots never seem to take place. Like the expectation that Trump will eventually grow and learn while in office, the expectation that the president will become more responsible in his policies is always disappointed. It would make sense for Trump to de-escalate tensions with Iran after creating the current crisis, but I see no evidence that he really intends to do this. Trump absolutely should extend New START, and without Bolton acting as an anti-arms control gremlin he could do this, but there has been no sign of interest in keeping the treaty alive. Trump should conclude negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan, but he just blew up the negotiations earlier this week. Negotiating with Iran requires ending “maximum pressure,” but so far the post-Bolton line from the administration is that “maximum pressure” isn’t going anywhere:

The United State is still pursuing a campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Thursday, days after US President Donald Trump’s hard-line national security adviser left the White House.

Mnuchin, in an interview on CNBC, also said that as of now there is no plan for Trump to meet with Iran President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month, although he reiterated that Trump was open to meeting Rouhani with no preconditions.

The president may want glitzy meetings, and he may want to create the illusion that he is having diplomatic success, but as I said after his Afghanistan debacle just a few days ago “he doesn’t have the concentration or discipline to complete any diplomatic initiative.” There is no question that he wants the credit, but he cares more about getting the credit than he does about securing the agreement. The president’s vanity kills diplomacy. As we just saw with his on-again, off-again meeting with the Taliban, if Trump doesn’t get to put on his self-aggrandizing show he would prefer to sink painstaking negotiations to end America’s longest war. If Trump is trying to pivot to “dealmaking,” he got off to a remarkably lousy start by killing the Afghanistan negotiations for no good reason.

Could this change over the coming year? I suppose anything’s possible, and Wright has spoken to current and former officials who agree that “the Trump pivot is real.” I find it hard to believe that there will be any such “pivot” because Trump is a terrible negotiator who doesn’t understand diplomacy and has shown no willingness to compromise. It also seems unlikely to produce any positive results because the president has almost run out of time. He wasted almost three years indulging hard-liners on most issues, and in the process he has angered and alienated the foreign governments whose cooperation he would need to reach agreements. Maybe Trump does want to change direction, but he will find that he has burned too many bridges over the first three years. The more desperate the president seems in wanting to get something, anything, before the election that he can claim as a success, the less likely it is that he will be able to make a deal with anyone.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.

5 thoughts on “A Foreign Policy Pivot? I Wouldn’t Bet On It”

  1. “…he doesn’t have the concentration or discipline to complete any diplomatic initiative.”

    Hear, hear. I’d argue that he doesn’t have the concentration to complete almost ANY initiative which requires more than a couple of Tweets to accomplish. Running a government and running a privately owned business are worlds apart, and even more so when you can’t or won’t fathom how that could be.

    1. “and running a privately owned business”

      You give him too much credit. His “private business” dealings consisted of sweetheart corporate welfare deals with local governments. There are actually a fair number of shared required abilities for success in this endeavor and success in government. The only problem is that these abilities serve him in both cases,and never the people.

      1. Well, it IS technically “privately owned.” It’s just that it’s also subsidized both by the taxpayers and by the people he leaves holding the bag when one of his schemes goes bankrupt.

  2. Bolton gone, news out of Afghanistan becomes less violent. Was Bolton firing part of a cease fire agreement or did he leave because of the cease fire agreement? But cease fire seems to be on.

  3. Events in the ME suggest an Islamic style Tet offensive. The US has no boots on the ground, no advisers, a cabinet of acting heads. He could pivot to peace which would be an admission of weakness, or he could escalate, and suffer the same fate as LBJ. If this is 1968 all over again, he should decline to seek the nomination.

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