Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Has Been Aimless And Ill-Informed

Donald Trump's foreign policy has been erratic, illogical, and demonstrated a clear disdain for diplomacy.

Trump Troops

Daniel Larison takes a look at President Trump’s foreign policy, and finds a disaster:

One of the running themes in Trump’s foreign policy is his tendency to give client governments blank checks and free gifts. For all of Trump’s constant complaining about how the U.S. has been taken advantage of by other countries, he is remarkably eager to give certain governments whatever they want without condition or reciprocity. Trump’s Riyadh speech gave the Saudis and their allies a green light to act however they pleased. He backed their war on Yemen to the hilt, and started the process of reneging on the nuclear deal that they resent. He has repeatedly endorsed reckless Saudi behavior and encouraged more of it, and in exchange he has obtained precisely nothing for the U.S. By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Trump gave away something that the U.S. had refused to provide for decades, and in return he got absolutely nothing.

As we have seen from his moves in blowing up the nuclear deal, recognizing Jerusalem and moving the U.S. embassy there, and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump has consistently put his misguided campaign pledges ahead of existing U.S. commitments. He probably doesn’t understand the implications of what he’s doing, and he doesn’t care about the consequences of following through on these pledges. The fact that he is bucking an overwhelming international consensus in each case doesn’t concern him, and he probably considers that to be a reason to do the things he does. In each case, Trump has abruptly broken with previous U.S. commitments in such a way that the U.S. bears extra costs without getting anything for our trouble.


Running throughout all of the Trump administration’s foreign policy is the president’s evident disdain for diplomacy. If a successful agreement exists and is functioning as it should, Trump wants to undermine or reject it. If there is a chance at making progress in resolving an ongoing conflict, Trump prefers to escalate U.S. involvement in the war while giving diplomacy short shrift. While he will pay lip service to pursuing “peace” from time to time, he reliably takes actions guaranteed to stir up resentment and hostility. All of these failings bode very ill for U.S. foreign policy in the coming year, and what makes them even more troubling is the knowledge that none of them can be fixed while Trump is president.

As Larison also notes in his piece, one of the major themes of Trump’s foreign policy has been one in which he has consistently neglected America’s relationships with long-time allies such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany while simultaneously cozying up to authoritarian rulers who have little if nothing to offer the United States in either the short or long term. The list of people he has cozied up to has included everyone from President Erdogan in Turkey and President el-Sisi in Egypt to the leaders of Saudi Arabia and President Rodrigo Duerte of The Phillippines. He has also failed to offer even the slightest criticism for the actions of Vladimir Putin’s Russia and sought to curry favor with the leadership in China while at the same time pushing away from strengthening the position of the United States in the Pacific by pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a move that will only serve to strengthen China while weakening our relationship with numerous nations in the region who would arguably far more reliable allies on at least some issues than Beijing will ever be. Closer to home, he has managed to sour our relationships with our closest neighbors by pursuing idiotic ideas such as the utterly unnecessary border wall and the threats to pull the United States out of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement unless Mexico and Canada agree to changes in a treaty that has been of great benefit to the United States in the two decades that it’s been in effect.

Things don’t get any better when you look at some of the specific foreign policy decisions that the President has made.

Most recently, of course, there’s the President’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and take the beginning steps toward moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As I noted at the time, this decision was clearly not rooted in any examination of the impact that it might have on the peace process going forward, or even on the safety of Americans abroad in either short or long term. Instead, it was largely based on Trump’s decision to appease the far-right base that supports him for whom unblinding and unquestioning support for the State of Israel is a primary issue and to appease the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In a different context, the decision could have been justified as a good idea if Trump had tied it to concessions from the Israeli government regarding the expansion of settlements or some other issue. Instead of doing that, though, Trump simply blindly went forward with a decision seemingly without thinking or caring about the consequences of that decision further down the road, or perhaps without caring. Moreover, he did this notwithstanding the apparent advice of his senior foreign policy advisers such as Secretary of State Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Mattis, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Trump demonstrated similar short-sightedness with regard to his decision to decertify Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal, a decision that every other party to the agreement that led to the deal disagreed with and which was not supported by any available evidence. Trump made this decision notwithstanding the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency has certified that Iran has in fact complied with all of its obligations under the deal and the fact that American allies such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany urged him not to do it and have said both publicly and privately that they would not support any effort to reopen negotiations, nor would they support reimposing sanctions absent evidence that the Iranians were not complying with the deal. As with the Jerusalem decision, Trump’s decision here appears to have been based principally on satisfying the demands of his base and currying favor with the Israeli government,

None of this should be a surprise, of course. During the campaign, Trump demonstrated quite clearly that he was essentially ignorant when it came to foreign policy and that he didn’t really care to educate himself on the issue. Instead, he claimed throughout the campaign that he was his own best foreign policy adviser and once said that he got his information about foreign policy by watching television news shows. As pathetic as that was when he was a candidate for office, it’s downright dangerous now that he’s President of the United States. Fortunately, we’ve managed to make it through most of the first year of Trump’s Presidency without hitting a major foreign policy crisis, but that’s unlikely to last for very long. Whether it’s in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, on the Korean Peninsula or elsewhere, it’s inevitable that something will pop up that will require us to rely on the President’s judgment to get us through. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it doesn’t seem likely that this President will handle it very well at all.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    This is a US President who is unwelcome on UK soil.
    That’s really all you have to say about him.

  2. Oh I wouldn’t say he’s unwelcome.

    I know a few Brits who would love for him to visit

  3. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Well played, sir….

  4. inhumans99 says:

    You are being too kind with the title of this post, as it would be nice if President Trump actually had a foreign policy, ill advised or otherwise. He has made the grave error of ceding our leadership role to Russia, Saudi Arabia, Aldovia, Israel, and anyone else who simply says don’t you worry Mr. President I got this.

  5. Moosebreath says:


    While I agree that the title is too kind, it’s because there is no reason to limit the comment to Trump’s foreign policy.

  6. Andy says:

    Well, in fairness, US Foreign policy has been aimless and ill-informed since at least the early 1990’s. Trump just lowers the already low standard.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: @Doug Mataconis:

    Indeed, Brits are divided between those who cannot stand the idea of this foul creature sliming his way across their country. . . and then there’s the other side which wants him to come so they can heap trademark British contempt on him.

    I watch a lot of British comedy. Richard Osman, sort of the Oxbridge intellectual’s wit and comedian, favors the latter. Translated to US terms it’s a bit like, say, Tom Hanks, hoping Mrs. May will visit the States so he can moon her.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    Of course there is one consistent direction to Trump’s foreign policy: serve Vladimir Putin.

    Attack NATO.
    Alienate western allies.
    Hollow out the State Department.
    Try to revoke sanctions.
    Refuse to enforce sanctions.
    Cede the Middle East to Putin, Assad and the Mullahs with the Jerusalem thing and even more
    by backing the KSA in Yemen and Qatar.

    He has seriously weakened US power – military, diplomatic and soft – around the world, to the benefit of Russia and China. Were it not for the fact that apparently everyone in the administration had contact with Russian spies and/or mobsters and then lied about it, I’d use my Occam’s brand razor and say it was sheer incompetence and stupidity. But sheer incompetence and stupidity should not have a consistent direction.

  9. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    The guy who called a sitting Senator a whore, yesterday, hit a new low in the RCP Approval Poll Average, today…37.0.

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy Entire F’king Life Has Been Aimless And Ill-Informed


  11. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Wednesday that the Palestinians will no longer work with American peace negotiators in the wake of President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6, the first serious diplomatic fallout from the deeply controversial move.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:
    Oh no! And Jared was sooooo close to bringing a lasting peace to the middle east.

  13. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Oh no! And Jared was sooooo close to bringing a lasting peace to the middle east.

    What I did not know until today…is that the Kushner Foundation, with Jared as co-director, funded one of the illegal Israeli settlements.
    Realistically it probably doesn’t matter, considering the moribund process. It’s just one more example of the Trumps working to enrich themselves, and fvck over everybody, and everything, else.

  14. DrDaveT says:


    You are being too kind with the title of this post

    I don’t think of it as ‘kindness’ so much as it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s going on. Using the phrase “Donald Trump’s foreign policy” as if those words mean something is akin to talking at length about the reigning Queen of the Freemasons, or the government of Gondwanaland — it’s nonsense predicated on a misunderstanding of the facts.

    Not only does Donald Trump not have a foreign policy, he doesn’t have ANY policies. He has patterns of behavior, some of them predictable, but to call any of them ‘policies’ is to imply a degree of forethought and deliberate consideration of consequences that simply does not apply.

  15. Kathy says:

    What will the Orange Twit do when a crisis hits, and he finds America’s allies unwilling to help or even offer support?

    Trick question. He’ll blame someone else.Obama, Hillary, CNN, the Democratic Party, Chuck and Nancy, McConnell, Mueller, Comey, the list goes on and on.

  16. Mister Bluster says:

    He’ll blame someone else…

    This has been evident for some time now. What is your remedy for the situation?

  17. Sleeping Dog says:

    Actually the French are very happy w/Trump’s FP. That along with the UK’s navel gazing and Germany’s lack of interest in almost anything that goes on outside the EU or does not border the EU, has given the French the chance to be, if not the indispensable nation, at least a willing arbiter in the worlds trouble spots.

  18. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Get a ral president into the White House, of course.

  19. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Mister Bluster: I don’t think there is a “remedy” to the situation as long as 80+% of Republicans think Trump is doing fine and majorities of 35-40 states are idiots who will vote for a loon like Trump virtually any Republican.