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Trump’s Foreign Policy Is No Longer Unpredictable

Gone Are the Days of a Divided Administration

U.S. President Donald Trump, acting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton hold a news conference after participating in the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 2018. Yves Herman / REUTERS

It has become a commonplace to describe the foreign policy of U.S. President Donald Trump as unpredictable. But doing so mischaracterizes the man and the policy. In fact, although Trump’s actions may often be shocking, they are rarely surprising. His most controversial positions—questioning NATO, seeking to pull out of Syria, starting trade wars—are all consistent with the worldview he has publicly espoused since the 1980s.

The unpredictability of this administration originated not in Trump’s views but in the struggle between the president and his political advisers on the one hand and the national security establishment on the other. Until recently, these two camps vied for supremacy, and it was difficult to know which would win on any given issue.

At the two-year mark, it is now clear that the president is dominating this struggle, even if he has not yet won outright. For the first time, it is possible to identify a singular Trump administration foreign policy, as the president’s team coalesces around his ideas. This policy consists of a narrow, transactional relationship with other nations, a preference for authoritarian governments over other democracies, a mercantilist approach to international economic policy, a general disregard for human rights and the rule of law, and the promotion of nationalism and unilateralism at the expense of multilateralism.

WHAT SET TRUMP APART

Many U.S. presidents have been elected with no real foreign policy experience. Some had ideas that contradicted a core tenet of U.S. foreign policy—for example, Jimmy Carter’s position in favor of pulling troops out of Korea. Trump, however, is different. He is the only president ever elected on a platform that explicitly rejected all of the pillars of U.S. grand strategy.

Although Trump has changed his mind on many issues, he has clear, consistent, visceral foreign policy instincts that date back three decades. He has long rejected the United States’ security alliances as unfair to the taxpayer and accused allies of conning Washington into defending them

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