Trump’s Lucky Year

Why the Chaos Can’t Last

Adult supervision? Trump with Mattis and Kelly at the White House, October 2017. Yuri Gripas / Reuters

When Donald Trump became president of the United States, many wondered just how abnormal his administration, and particularly his foreign policy, would be. After all, as a candidate, Trump had evinced a partiality for foreign strongmen, derided U.S. allies as a gang of freeloaders, proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States, sneered at Mexicans, and denounced free-trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the nascent Trans-Pacific Partnership, while demonstrating little understanding of most other dimensions of international politics. Scores of former senior Republican foreign policy officials, myself included, repudiated his candidacy on the grounds of both his character and his bent toward populist isolationism. His inaugural address confirmed fears that he viewed the world in darkly narrow, zero-sum terms. “We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon,” he said. He went on: “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first.”

Being in office has done little to moderate Trump’s belligerent rhetoric, improve his commitment to facts, or alter his views on trade and international agreements. Over the course of 2017, he insulted foreign leaders on Twitter, openly undermined his secretary of state, and attacked the FBI and the CIA. He continued to praise dictators, such as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and refused to mention Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty—which enshrines the idea that an attack against one NATO member is an attack against all—when visiting NATO headquarters in Brussels. His subordinates gamely echoed the promise of “America first,” assuring both the public and themselves that Trump’s use of that phrase had nothing to do with Charles Lindbergh’s isolationist and anti-Semitic America First Committee, founded in 1940.

Still, the world did not blow up. World War III did not break out. A case can be made that all things considered, Trump has ended up being a highly erratic,

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