The next presidential election is near. Within the next twelve months, the US will vote again. Rarely before has an election been anticipated so intensely as the one that will determine whether or not Donald Trump remains in office. Mr. “The Art of Deal” himself has made many promises. Promises that were supposed to transform the international scene and solve major conflicts around the globe. The fact that arguably more sophisticated and tremendously more experienced elder statesmen had already failed to deliver these results did not appear to matter to Trump. In the end, and just like any other politician, Trump will be measured by the promises he made and the promises he has kept.
And while his track record on domestic issues has been solid (e.g. tax reform, Supreme Court justices, deregulations, increased support for veterans and stricter illegal immigration enforcement) his record on foreign policy issues remains inadequate at best.
In North Korea, Trump promised a “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.” He once threatened “Rocket Man” with “fire and fury,” while the regime in Pyongyang had unsettled the region with a series of missile and nuclear bomb tests. During his first speech to the UN General Assembly in 2017, Trump threatened the “total destruction” of North Korea. How time flies. These days, Trump showers Kim with praises. And why not? Very few people possess the aptitude of writing “beautiful letters” as Supreme Leader Kim does.
The meeting between the two this summer was supposed to become a historic moment and the foundation for long-lasting peace. So far, the most significant impact Trump’s North Korea policy has facilitated can only be measured in likes on social media, where Trump himself and affiliates such as Fox News presented the images of Kim and Trump as if Reagan had just met Gorbachev for the first time. It was an appalling display, in which a US President was willing to elevate a dictator onto the level of the world’s most powerful man.
While Trump has been the first US President to ever meet a North Korean ruler – for which there are many reasons – the summits never amounted to any tangible success. It has been pure photo diplomacy. North Korea is neither denuclearized nor has it stopped its ballistic missile program.
Right now, the negotiations have stalled altogether, though according to South Korea, the United States was “very actively” trying to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table. It has not stopped Trump from claiming that North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat. A simple untruth, or “Fake News”, and contradicted, for one, by Trump’s very own Director of Intelligence Dan Coats during a congressional hearing in January.
Another conundrum Trump has pledged to tackle and solve is China. A historic trade deal was supposed to decrease the enormous US trade deficit with Asia’s rising hegemon. The simple solution: fewer imports, more exports.
The deal, on which both countries are still working, or at times, procrastinate, it appears, was much more wanted by Beijing than by the US, Trump continues to claim.
Unlike his predecessors, Trump has fulfilled his commitment to negotiate with China more robustly. He has imposed tariffs on Chinese goods worth $350 billion, with the result that China’s economy stagnated for the first time in three decades.
In October, Trump announced that there had been a first minor trade deal with China in place, aiming at increased protection of intellectual property, an open Chinese financial market and Chinese purchases of US agricultural products.
However, the on – and off-trade war has been largely affecting American consumers, who carry the burden by paying increased prices for goods “made in China”. And while other states have benefitted from the dispute between Washington and Beijing, the entire US trade deficit increased by more than five percent, to $481 billion from January to September. It is a track record most CEOs would have needed to show their way out for.
Moreover, Trump has created a political dilemma besides economic struggles. Unlike Trump, his counterpart Xi Jinping does not have to convince any voters – one of the cozy advantages of running a totalitarian state. Trump, on the other hand, has made the economy his calling card. If no deal is made, the US economy could face enormous issues and Trump a troublesome election night.
With Trump signing the Hong Kong bill this week, problems have likely further increased. Even though Congress did not leave him any choice, the now verified pro-Hong Kong stance will not make Beijing rush back to the negotiating table. In the end, Trump will likely be forced to make concessions to obtain a deal and present it to his voters.
In May 2018, Trump announced a real, comprehensive and lasting solution to Iran’s nuclear threat after he had left the infamous deal between Iran, Europe, and the US. Since then, the US has reimposed severe sanctions, while Tehran no longer feels bound by the terms of the agreement. Thus, despite continuous European appeasement Iran has begun enriching uranium in its nuclear facility again. The ambitious plan of the fundamental Islamic regime, the development of their own nuclear weapons, had moved closer in the nearly three-year reign of Donald Trump, critics argue. The reality, however, is that the US will never let Iran get a nuclear weapon, regardless of the circumstances and potential militaristic commitment.
The latter notwithstanding, the imposed sanctions have achieved a highly positive effect for Trump: Iran is in chaos and a coup by the Iranian population against the regime in Tehran, which remains the world’s main sponsor of terrorism, is not outside the realms of possibility at this stage.
It is the foreign policy development that receives the least attention and yet deserves to be commended. The general consensus that implies that the US’s exit from the nuclear deal was a detrimental decision for peace in the region – Saudi-Arabia and Israel beg to differ – could change rather rapidly if current developments, caused by an economy that has been paralyzed due to the sanctions, was to deliver regime change without any military intervention.
And while the puppet mastery of Iran’s potential implosion has been orchestrated by Mike Pompeo first and foremost, Trump would yet deserve credit, as he, unlike his predecessor, has been willing to delegate.
China and North Korea remain work in progress at best, however, with Iran, the US might be on the verge of delivering a signature win on foreign policy for the administration that could help distract from other obvious shortcomings.