Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

The Total Destruction of U.S. Foreign Policy Under Trump

| July 31, 2020

His last remaining objective is obtaining foreign help for his reelection.

The lack of any significant U.S. response to the revelation that Russia has offered money to the Taliban for killing U.S. troops shines yet another ugly spotlight on the foreign policy of U.S. President Donald Trump—or, more precisely, the utter lack of one. As the presidential election season heats up, Trump’s latest failure should remind American voters that his administration has failed on the most important global threats—not least the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. All these and other foreign-policy failures should be just as much at the center of the debate as the crush of domestic policy concerns.

Trump’s latest failure should remind American voters that his administration has failed on the most important global threats.


Many months after the Russian bounties first became known to the White House, and weeks after they became public, Trump still has taken no action and expressed no empathy for soldiers or their families, claiming that this issue, too, is just a hoax cooked up by his enemies. On this issue as on so many others, his foreign policy mainly consists of a series of marginally coherent tweets with no discernible objective or strategy. Indeed, after three and a half years in office, Trump has developed no foreign policy at all. What we do see are haphazard assertions, “maximum pressure” campaigns, boundless admiration for and obsequious pandering to authoritarian leaders, disparaging of democratic allies, and so-called trade deals that cost thousands of American jobs and lack any strategic objective.

As a result of Trump’s failures, the Middle East is further from peace and closer to the next Palestinian uprising than when he took office, the people of Cuba and Venezuela face a bitter future, the promise of African renewal is sidelined, and there is no real challenge to either Russia or China.

Trump’s approach to Iran is another painful and costly example. Over three years after the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal, Iran has more highly enriched uranium available for a nuclear weapon, more operating nuclear facilities, more sophisticated technology, and a shorter breakout time to build a nuclear weapon. Its malign behavior in the Middle East has not ceased, Americans remain detained by Tehran, and human rights in Iran have worsened. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iran envoy Brian Hook advertise this as a campaign of “maximum pressure,” but their ultimate objective—which they insist is not regime change—remains a mystery.

A similar lack of clear objectives and coherent policies features in virtually every area of foreign policy and national security. On the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, what masquerades as Trump’s policy is nothing but a series of photo opportunities with dictator Kim Jong Un. Other than stating the need for “complete, verifiable denuclearization” by North Korea, there appears to be no strategy for even a single incremental step on the way to such a goal. As Trump has done with European allies on Iran, Washington has left allies in Seoul and Tokyo blindsided and out of the loop, dangerously exposed both to North Korea and to the erratic policies of the United States, and with no hope of any de-escalation of tensions with Pyongyang.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Sherman, Wendy.“The Total Destruction of U.S. Foreign Policy Under Trump.” Foreign Policy, July 31, 2020.

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