Mass resignations follow any transfer of presidential power across party lines, but Trump’s ascension to power — built in part on his “Drain the Swamp” campaign slogan — seems certain to provoke an exodus by those who have attached themselves to the Obama administration’s big foreign policy goals. Among them: last year’s international global climate change agreement; the controversial U.N.-backed deal to obstruct Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear arsenal; and pursuit of peaceful settlement in the Middle East that encompasses an independent Palestinian state.
Each of these initiatives could be pushed into a trash bin by Trump, if he keeps his word. Trump has called global climate change — a scientifically recognized phenomenon — an unproven foreign conspiracy, and one of Trump’s national security advisory council members is Sen. James Inhofe R-Ok., a well-known climate warming denier. (Other members include the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; the chairman of the Senate strategic forces subcommittee, Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.; former Republican Attorney General John Ashcroft, and former CIA director Jim Woolsey.) During the campaign, Trump called the Iran nuclear deal “disastrous,” but experts say it’s unclear whether he would scrap it outright. Trump likewise has said he plans to undo proscriptions on exceptionally brutal interrogation techniques for suspected terrorists, such as waterboarding — but it remains unclear how the CIA or the military would react if ordered to use such methods again.Trump’s relations with top intelligence officials are already poor, due to his rejection of their consensus opinion that Russia organized the hacking of emails involving Democratic party officials and operatives.
Those running the U.S. military campaign against ISIS are doubtless even less clear about what might lie ahead. Trump has promised a decisive military defeat of ISIS, but never detailed how he would do it differently than the Obama administration. Instead, he’s assured audiences that he understands the task better than the generals in charge.
U.S. allies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East might be wise to start reviewing their out-year military spending plans, because Trump has also promised to short-circuit U.S. financial support for NATO, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea unless each starts ponying up more funds to pay for associated military costs. The U.S. share of total defense spending in Europe by all NATO members, for example, exceeds 70 percent, although some of this spending is for forces that can be used elsewhere in the world. Washington’s share of NATO’s direct budget (for its operations and staff) is far less — roughly 22 percent — but still larger than anyone else’s.
At the third debate, Trump said, “We’re defending other countries. We are spending a fortune doing it. They have the bargain of the century…We have to renegotiate those agreements.” He went on: “South Korea, these are very rich, powerful countries. Saudi Arabia, nothing but money. We protect Saudi Arabia. Why aren’t they paying?” Actually, they do pay billions of dollars to reimburse some U.S. costs. But senior U.S. officials, including Obama himself, have repeatedly expressed identical frustrations; in April, Obama colorfully called such countries “free riders,” virtually echoing Trump.
“After I’m elected president,” Trump said in an April speech, “I will…call for a summit with our NATO allies and a separate summit with our Asian allies. In these summits, we will not only discuss a rebalancing of financial commitments, but…discuss how we can upgrade NATO’s outdated mission and structure, grown out of the Cold War to confront our shared challenges, including migration and Islamic terrorism.”
Mexico and China should similarly ready themselves for tough new negotiations over trade and immigration, two of Trump’s signature issues. Mexico’s president said during the campaign that his country would not finance completion of a nearly 2,000 mile long wall to halt immigration across the southern U.S. border, despite Trump’s insistence that it could be forced to do so. Trump has also said he wants to renegotiate the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which paved the way for smoother trade with Mexico and Canada.
Will America be less safe in a Trump presidency? The Obama administration’s nuclear arms deal with the Russians, the Republican party’s platform says, has flimsy verification provisions and wrongly allows Russia “to build up its nuclear arsenal while reducing ours.” He has promised to modernize U.S. nuclear warheads — but it remains unclear whether or how his plan might differ from a modernization program already being aggressively pursued by the Obama administration.
Hillary Clinton accused Trump of being cavalier about a nuclear conflict, saying he had told Asian nations engaged in a nuclear competition, in effect, to “go ahead, enjoy yourselves, folks.” In March, Trump said “maybe it’s not so bad…if Japan had that nuclear threat.” He also said this is “going to happen whether we like it or not,” and that other countries such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia might also get the bomb unless the world gets “rid of them entirely.” But it’s unclear if this was a prediction or an endorsement, particularly when viewed alongside another remark by Trump last January that nuclear proliferation — including the seizure of a warhead by a madman — is “the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.”