Trump’s Foreign Policy Remains Elusive

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 15 November 2016

NEW YORK, USA — With no track record on either national security or foreign policy, the US President-elect Donald Trump has left international relations experts in the dark as to how he will engage countries around the world.

Trump’s foreign policy is “a great puzzle” said Dr. Carla Robbins, clinical professor at the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs and adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, speaking at a panel discussion on the future of US foreign policy held at Baruch College the day after the US election.

“What does Donald Trump stand for in international relations? Very little, to be perfectly frank,” she said.

According to Robbins, all that can be done is to watch Trump’s appointments of advisors and cabinet members.

Trump’s options are worryingly limited—members of the Republican Party most experienced in foreign policy and national security already denounced Trump as unfit to command earlier in the summer.

“He has a very limited group of people who have endorsed him who do have experience in foreign policy,” said Robbins.

That list is populated by people like Newt Gingrich—a former speaker of the House of Representatives who endorsed Trump’s “make America great, shut it down” rhetoric during the campaign—and “hawkish” Senator Bob Corker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she said.

Another name mentioned was former ambassador to the UN John Bolton who has similar rhetoric to the President-elect regarding foreign relations.

“Trump has said he wants to confront ISIS, make a deal with Putin, be less confrontational in Europe, and not defend NATO allies—it’s very hard to tell how much of this is rhetoric and how much of this will become policy,” Robbins said.

When it comes to Southeast Asia—and Burma in particular—panelist Dr. David Birdsell pointed out that Trump has yet to reveal opinions on the region.

“We don’t really know what he might do in Myanmar,” said the dean of the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, “whether he is going to care about the refugee situation, the Rohingya situation—there are a numbers of things he could be concerned about.”

The extent of Trump’s comments on Burma is a tweet in August referencing the earthquakes in both Italy and Burma. “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families of those affected by two powerful earthquakes in Italy and Myanmar,” he posted.

“One thing we do have every reason to expect, given that as a candidate Mr. Trump supported the use of torture against terrorists and the slaughter of terrorist’s families, is that he will insist less vigorously on human rights as a condition of favorable support from the US,” he said to The Irrawaddy.

During President Obama’s second term, Burma was part of his ‘pivot’ to Asia, one of the administration’s central foreign policy initiatives to rebalance US interests from Europe and the Middle East toward East Asia, a move made by Hilary Clinton when she was Secretary of State.

“[Trump] does say he is going to challenge China … he said that on the first day in office he would challenge China on manipulated currency. He also threatened to raise tariffs which goes against World Trade Organization policy,” said Dr. David Birdsell. “We don’t know how much of this will happen or if it is bluster.”

During another panel discussion held on Nov. 10 on US foreign policy and the global challenges that confront the next administration, David Denoon, professor of politics and economics at New York University and director of the NYU Center on US-China Relations said experts are in a position where they do not know what the next steps are likely to be.

“In this case it applies to both Clinton and to Trump. The three topics that I think are likely to achieve the greatest attention are North Korea, the South China Sea and economic issues,” said the professor, who was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

He said the likelihood of North Korea giving up nuclear weapons was extremely low and that acknowledging it as a nuclear state and entering negotiations was also questionable.

“In the South China Sea, it looks unlikely to me that China will back down.  The question is what other countries in the region will do, and how that affects the United States,” he explained.

David Denoon continued to say that the broadest issue of relations between the US and China, was clearly economic as the US has an enormous trade deficit with China—US$367 billion last year.

“There is no easy way to resolve that, because the corporations that have set up manufacturing in China are not going to cease and desist,” he said.

“Rebalancing could shift demand towards domestic production, which would make it harder for the Chinese to continue to focus on exports. But the trade deficit is going to continue and it’s going to be a volatile issue,” he said.