Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Another Trump Presidency Won't Much Change U.S. Foreign Policy

| Jan. 22, 2024

The world's fears are mostly exaggerated.

Barring some unforeseen turn of events, the 2024 U.S. presidential election will be a rematch between incumbent President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Although most Americans would be happier if neither was running, that's not the choice they are likely to face in November. The election is already being framed as a watershed event that will have far-reaching effects on American democracy and its approach to the rest of the world.

On the first issue—the likely consequences here at home—the choice is clear. Trump is a convicted fraudster, sexual abuser, and serially incompetent chief executive during his previous term as president. His commitment to democratic principles and the rule of law is nonexistent, and there are worrisome signs that he and the Republican Party intend to use a second term to punish political opponents and move the United States toward de facto autocracy. Women's rights will be further curtailed, efforts to halt climate change will be abandoned, and wealthy Americans and corporations will be free to pursue their own selfish interests with scant regard for the broader social and political consequences. Whatever you may think of Biden or his policies, he's not likely to do any of those things. And for me that is sufficient reason to cast an enthusiastic vote against Trump.

But if we turn to foreign policy, the differences are not so stark. Although many people now fear that a second Trump term would have dramatic effects on U.S. foreign policy, I suspect the differences will be less significant than you might think. Trump will be erratic, mercurial, boorish, and confrontational—especially toward America's NATO allies—just as he was during his first term. But in other respects, a second Trump term may not be that different from what Biden would do should he win another four years in office. To see this, consider how each man is likely to deal with what are arguably the three most important items on today’s foreign-policy agenda: Ukraine, China, and the Middle East.

  1. Ukraine 

The Biden administration has been all-in on Ukraine since the war started, despite opposition from some members of the GOP and growing pessimism about Kyiv's ability to win the war or recover its lost territory. Ukrainians and their Western supporters worry that Trump will pull the plug on U.S. support and leave Ukraine dependent on whatever help it can get from Europe and at the mercy of the Russian army. With typical bombast, Trump has boasted he could solve the war "in one day" and then waffled when asked if he wants Ukraine to win. Accordingly, you might think a Trump election would bring a sea change in U.S. policy....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“Another Trump Presidency Won't Much Change U.S. Foreign Policy.” Foreign Policy, January 22, 2024.

The Author

Stephen Walt