More on the way, but here’s a quick rundown of where I see Trump going on some big foreign policy issues:
I am very mildly optimistic on Iran, mostly because I suspect that Trump does not want to open up a giant mess of worms by aggressively upending the deal. Perhaps as important, the anti-Iran dealers were heavily represented in the NeverTrump movement. It also doesn’t seem that Trump has any specific ideological axe to grind with Tehran; Iranians no longer emigrate to the United States in great numbers, Trump is unbothered by the mixed-authoritarian nature of Iranian governance, and Iran can hardly be termed a “free rider” ally. But then who the hell knows?
For folks hoping that a de-escalation with Russia would lead to a broader evaluation of US defense posture, tough luck. For one, Russia and the “new Cold War” has never been that big of a deal for the Pentagon. People in DoD know Russia and they use Russia rhetorically (at least in the Army) to argue for certain priorities. The medium- and long-range foci of DoD, and of the defense industry writ large, have been firmly on China for quite some time. The reason is simple; China represents a far more compelling military threat than Russia, which remains hemmed in by an alliance structure, and faces tremendous economic and industrial obstacles.
And broadly speaking, the Trump campaign has been making very hawkish noises on Asia. Jeff Sessions and Randy Forbes are both Navy supporters, are both China hawks, and either one is completely plausible as the next SecDef. I’d mildly prefer Forbes because he seems to be smarter than Sessions, but pick your poison; either one of them is going to push a more militarized version of the Pacific Pivot, and is going to ask for more resources from the Trump administration. But then who the hell knows?
Russia may have bought itself some serious trouble in President Donald Trump. Trump did manage to stay on message for most of the campaign regarding Moscow, consistently signaling de-escalation and cooperation. But then Obama made the same argument in 2012; and Obama made the same argument in 2008; and Bush made the same argument in 2004; and Bush made the same argument in 2000. Point being, everybody seems to think that it’ll be easy to “reset” relations with Russia, and it never really is. Trump may be different because he doesn’t share with Bush, Obama, and Clinton many of the same priors with regard to Russia and Eastern Europe. It’s also true that both Putin and Trump have very personalistic political styles, and so that may help. I would not be at all surprised, however, to see Putin miscalculate just how far he can push in Ukraine (and less likely, Syria), and find that Trump pushes back in an unpredictable way. On the other hand, if Trump tries anything particularly sketchy (say, recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea) he may get a lot of resistance from the professional foreign policy bureaucracy. But then who the hell knows?
NATO isn’t going away, but it may change. At the very least, I don’t see Trump making the kind of rhetorical and procedural nods to NATO that have become common in the last three decades. The bigger problem (for those who think that NATO is a stabilizing force) comes next year, when we may find ourselves with President Le Pen. With none of Washington, London, or Paris particularly excited about doing the kind of work necessary to maintaining the alliance… well, who the hell knows?
International climate change action is fucked. Sorry. But hey, Hillary’s EMAILZ are deeply concerning.
Syria was fucked either way. We can probably expect that Trump will start off from a decent position with Erdogan, but then Erdogan’s position on Syria has been inconsistent to the point of incoherence over the last three years. Even if Assad “wins” with the help of the Russians, and ISIS is pushed out of Raqqa, Damascus does not reassert meaningful control over the bulk of Syria for a very long time.