President Trump's Dangerous Foreign Policy

Foreign policy can sometimes feel like a faraway issue here in Ohio -- I get it. In all honesty, that’s probably a good thing. It means that your elected and appointed officials in Washington are doing their job, ensuring American security and global stability. Since the outset of the Trump administration, however, foreign policy decisions have felt far too close to home. Misinformed policy decisions and a state of constant flux have characterized the Trump Administration's foreign policy, making it a genuine threat to U.S. national security. His reckless actions could actually land us in the unthinkable: a nuclear war.


In recent weeks, Trump’s foreign policy apparatus has been upended, with the most senior officials responsible for the creation of U.S. foreign policy sent packing in quick succession. In early March, President Trump announced via twitter that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Shortly thereafter, the President announced that former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton would replace H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor, a position that doesn't require Senate confirmation. Director Pompeo, a hardliner who is ideologically aligned with Trump, has supported the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, defended the use of torture, promised to roll back the Iran Deal, and stated that the U.S. will make no concessions to North Korea. John Bolton poses an even greater threat because it’s more than just bureaucratic reorganization; it’s the elevation of an ideological warmonger with the institutional knowledge to make his dangerous ideas tangible policy. Bolton, best known for his criticism of the United Nations and unequivocal support of the invasion of Iraq, has called for an array of reckless foreign policy ideas, including the bombing of Iran and a military assault on North Korea. Trump is assembling a war cabinet, surrounding himself with foreign policy hawks who prefer the use of force to diplomacy, and the consequences could be catastrophic.


So what does the arrival of these new players mean for America’s greatest foreign policy challenges? In North Korea, it doesn’t look promising. Talks between the U.S. and the North Korea are expected next month, but the arrival of Bolton and Pompeo makes a successful outcome virtually impossible. As recently as last month, John Bolton has dismissed the talks, instead discussing the possibility of launching a military strike on North Korea. It’s a radical course of action that most experts warn could result in hundreds of thousands of casualties -- South Korean civilians and American service members alike. Not only are Bolton’s alternatives extremely dangerous, but his presence alone may be enough to unravel the talks. Bolton has demanded total denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, similar to the strategy used in Libya in 2003 and 2011; it’s a demand the North Koreans and their Chinese allies are unlikely to agree to. Someone like Bolton, who was (and still is) a staunch advocate of the Iraq War and favors dismantling the Iranian nuclear agreement, is unlikely to be able or willing to provide North Korea with the assurances necessary for a substantial agreement between our two countries.

Trump has created a lose-lose situation in North Korea. He’s legitimized the North Korean regime by immediately agreeing to talks, while virtually ensuring an unsuccessful outcome by surrounding himself with advisors advocating for untenable demands and military alternatives. We need experienced diplomats with the regional and technical expertise to craft a mutually acceptable deal, preferably one which would ease crushing economic sanctions in exchange for the cessation of missile testing and gradual denuclearization.


First things first: continued commitment to the Iran Deal is critical for global stability and U.S. national security. On May 12th, President Trump will have to decide whether to renew America’s commitment to the Iran deal or withdraw from it altogether. Bolton is a vocal critic of the Iran deal, floating the possibility of military strikes as means of preventing further enrichment activities. Director Pompeo is an equally formidable opponent of the Iran Deal, who gained international attention for his aggressive anti-deal legislation during his time in Congress.

If Trump heeds the advice of Pompeo and Bolton and withdraws from the Iran Deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA), the results could prove disastrous. The U.S. would alienate critical European allies like Germany and the United Kingdom, and Iran would be free to resume its nuclear enrichment activities and grow closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon -- without the threat of UN sanctions. To make matters worse, Iranian nuclear enrichment could unsettle the Middle East even further, possibly resulting in a regional arms race.


Presidents from both sides of the aisle have made foreign policy blunders in the past. When they have, the State Department and its army of experienced Foreign Service Officers and civilian foreign policy professionals have been there to pick up the pieces. This time, that may not be the case. When Trump took office in early 2017, experienced diplomats with decades of institutional knowledge and substantive experience were forced out in droves and funding cuts of up to 31% were proposed, resulting in an understaffed and underfunded department at one of the most volatile moments in international politics.

As of today, just three of the nine senior positions at the State Department are filled. Rex Tillerson was one of the most contentious Secretaries of State in history, due in part to his disdain for career diplomats and institutional tradition. Tillerson sequestered himself with a small, inexperienced policy team and made many decisions unilaterally, leaving a dismantled and disheartened State Department in his wake when he left last month. With Mike Pompeo poised to take the helm and few high-level career diplomats left in the agency, the potential for egregious policy making on complex issues with Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China is all but assured.


The inconsistency of the entire Trump Administration is at its most dangerous when it comes to foreign policy. For someone who campaigned on the promise of American isolationism, President Trump has been eager to surround himself with advisors like Bolton and Mike Pompeo who prefer military engagement to diplomacy – no matter the cost. Continued tensions with Iran and North Korea, a trade war with China, and Russian election interference make the need for responsible American engagement with the world more critical now than ever before. With stakes this high, it’s Congress’ responsibility to speak out against dangerous policies like these. Unsurprisingly, Jim Jordan has remained silent.

As your Congresswoman, I’d fight to prevent nominees like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton from obtaining positions of power, advocate for robust funding of the State Department and USAID, and commit to leveraging the experience and expertise of our most dedicated civil servants to craft smart, detailed foreign policy. Crafting effective foreign policy is complicated, and that’s why we need to leverage the talent and expertise of these professionals in order to advance crucial tenets of American foreign policy like humanitarian aid, economic development, strong alliances, and increased levels of national security. By doing so, we can make smart choices that will keep Americans safe, without letting ideologies get us into unnecessary wars.

Janet GarrettComment