Quick Read: Trump’s more predictable foreign policy likely to benefit Kremlin

Feb 7, 2019 | Maria Snegovaya

Contrary to conventional wisdom that views President Trump’s foreign policy as unpredictable, a recent Foreign Affairs analysis argues that in fact his most controversial positions—questioning NATO, seeking to pull out of Syria, starting trade wars—are all consistent with the worldview he has publicly embraced at least since the 1980s. The fulfillment of Trump’s time-tested positions is likely to benefit the Kremlin in the short term.

The analysis by Thomas Wright, the director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, notes that “[Trump] has long rejected the United States’ security alliances as unfair to the taxpayer and accused allies of conning Washington into defending them for free. He has long seen trade deficits as a threat to U.S. interests and has rejected virtually all trade deals that the United States has negotiated since World War II. And he has a history of expressing admiration for strongmen around the world.”

Wright argues that the observed unpredictability of this administration up until recently resulted not from Trump’s own choices but from the policy process that unfolded, which was a product of a struggle between the President, his political advisers and the national security establishment. However, as Trump has increasingly consolidated control over foreign policy making, and as his more independent advisers – Rex Tillerson, H.R. McMaster, Gary Cohn, Nikki Haley, and Jim Mattis—have been gradually replaced with more ideologically loyal ones, foreign policy making has become more closely aligned with Trump’s core beliefs. 

Because the vision of Trump’s new advisors is more aligned with his policy stances, the White House’s foreign policy will be even more nationalist and unilateral by reinforcing the worldview “manifest in Washington’s opposition to the European Union, support for authoritarian leaders who defy international norms, and withdrawal from international organizations and treaties.”

Up until recently, Trump’s cabinet officials have consistently been tougher on Russia than Trump himself. A Trump administration that is both derisive of NATO and admiring of strongmen, and more confident in asserting these notions, might give the Kremlin more advantage in achieving its policy goals, such as lifting sanctions. 

Wright concludes his analysis on a pessimistic note: A more unified and predictable U.S. foreign policy is likely to further weaken U.S. influence and destabilize the international order. A deeply divided Trump administration helped sustain the American postwar strategy, which emphasized strong alliances, open global economy, support for democracy and human rights. Now that the administration is more aligned around a common worldview, darker times might be ahead.