Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Planning for the Post-Trump Wreckage

| Aug. 30, 2018

When the president eventually exits the White House, the rest of us will quickly have to make sense of the world he's left behind.

One of the many unfortunate consequences of U.S. President Donald Trump’s cavalier, corrupt, and capricious handling of foreign policy is that it discourages farsighted thinking about the global agenda. Even worse, it is gradually undermining the institutional capacity the United States will need to deal with that agenda. To a first approximation, the people who are most alarmed by his actions (and I include myself among them) are spending a lot of their time circling the wagons and trying to minimize the damage that he and his minions do while in office. They are like parents trying frantically to corral a rambunctious toddler (hat tip to Dan Drezner) who is running amok through a china shop: All the attention is on saving as much of the crockery as possible, and nobody has any time to think about what they’ll do once the kid has finished smashing things.

It’s understandable that people are trapped in a reactive mode, because Trump’s genius is his ability to make nearly everything all about him and to focus attention on whatever his latest outrageous antic is. What other president could or would make himself the center of attention when a prominent senator died or express his disagreement with an important allied leader by tossing candy at her? Trump may be terrible at running the government, but his ability to command attention through outrageous behavior makes Madonna look like an amateur.
 
Yet we should resist the urge to remain in a defensive crouch. Yes, there’s a lot of damage being done these days, and resisting Trump’s worst impulses is important. But there are plenty of problems out there that will require attention in the not-too-distant future, and where the appropriate solutions aren’t immediately obvious. Careful and creative thought will be needed to figure out an appropriate destination and then to chart a course to get there. It is not too soon, therefore, for foreign-policy mavens to start thinking about the post-Trump world, not simply to restore the pre-Trump status quo but in order to figure out arrangements that acknowledge new realities and are appropriate for the conditions we will face in the future.

No doubt each of you has your own list of priorities, but for what it’s worth, here are a few of mine.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“Planning for the Post-Trump Wreckage.” Foreign Policy, August 30, 2018.

The Author

Stephen Walt