Quick Read: Are Trump's Foreign Policies Better Than They Seem?

Apr 25, 2019 | Maria Snegovaya

While President Trump’s foreign policy actions have often been described as random and inconsistent, can some of his individual foreign policies be better than his opponents assert?

In his new report for the Council on Foreign Relations, Robert D. Blackwill, the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy, assesses the Trump administration’s foreign policies, including U.S. ties with allies; and policies towards China, Russia, the Middle East, North Korea, Venezuela, trade, and climate change. 

Blackwill is a former deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for strategic planning under President George W. Bush. His responsibilities included developing and coordinating the direction of U.S. foreign policy, including U.S. policies regarding Afghanistan and Iran. In his report, Blackwill discusses President Trump’s major foreign policies and then assigns a letter grade to each of them, and a final grade of D+ for his overall foreign policy, concluding that some of Trump’s “individual foreign policies are substantially better than his opponents assert.”

However, when it comes to Trump’s Russia foreign policy, Blackwill assigns it a letter grade of F, arguing that the President’s persistently sympathetic sentiments regarding Russia precluded his administration’s ability to implement even legally required penalties against Russia’s destabilizing actions (such as its 2016 U.S. elections interference or actions in Ukraine and Syria). For example, the Trump team only reluctantly undertook the actions required by the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. In this regard, Blackwill evaluates Trump’s Russia policies to be as weak as those of President Obama. 

Several exceptions to this rule exist, however. For example, in 2017 the Justice Department forced Kremlin-funded news outlet RT America to register as a foreign agent, and added fifty-two individuals, many of them Russian, to the list of sanctioned human rights abusers under the Magnitsky Act. Other exceptions are President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty and U.S. military assistance for Ukraine.

Blackwill argues that with the exception of INF withdrawal and Ukraine, Trump administration policy objectives seem to be to put as little pressure on Moscow as possible.