Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Nobody's Asking for Trump to Be a Genius

| June 10, 2019

But is it too much for him to at least show some foreign-policy common sense?

When we teach, write, or think about foreign policy, there's a tendency to focus our attention on extremes, either on prominent examples of extraordinary success or cases of abject failure. We are inspired by creative initiatives like the Marshall Plan, bold moves like Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977, the stubborn tenacity of U.S. President Jimmy Carter that produced the Camp David Accords, or perhaps U.S. President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger's opening to China in 1972. We contrast these examples of diplomatic artistry with big and obvious blunders, such as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's failure to recognize the full extent of Adolf Hitler's bellicosity, or U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson's ill-fated decision to escalate the war in Vietnam in 1964.

Yet focusing on these extreme examples can also be misleading. Over time, we come to expect presidents, prime ministers, and other foreign-policy officials to be magicians who can pull multiple rabbits from the foreign-policy hat and produce Nobel Peace Prize-worthy triumphs at little cost or risk. Anyone who believed U.S. President Donald Trump could get Mexico to pay for a border wall that it repeatedly insisted it didn't even want was succumbing to this sort of illusion, as did the president himself when he thought he could charm North Korean leader Kim Jong Un into giving up the nuclear arsenal that protects the regime in Pyongyang from direct attack....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“Nobody's Asking for Trump to Be a Genius.” Foreign Policy, June 10, 2019.

The Author

Stephen Walt