More Foreign Policy Continuity as Trump Affirms NATO Mutual Defense

Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan

Last Friday, President Trump reaffirmed the US commitment to Article 5 of NATO, which commits the US to come to the defense of any other NATO member.

Trump’s decision is in keeping with the US’s traditional position on the topic. However, it is somewhat at odds with the position advanced by Trump when he was a candidate.

On the campaign trail, Trump often criticized NATO and suggested it was obsolete. However, his criticism was not grounded in principle; instead it often centered around the idea that other countries weren’t paying their fair share.

At one point in the campaign, Trump implied that the US would only honor the mutual defense part of the agreement for countries that were spending the required 2% of GDP on their own military forces. Given that most members of NATO do not meet this threshold, such a stance would have had the effect of largely nullifying the US’s mutual defense commitment.

With last Friday’s announcement, however, Trump has abandoned his controversial position from his campaign and fallen back in line with US foreign policy orthodoxy. Unfortunately, this pattern has proven to be a common one for Trump.

On Syria, Candidate Trump was often critical of the idea of regime change, expressing a preference for focusing on ISIS. By contrast, President Trump has already launched direct cruise missile against the Syrian government, and US-backed forces have clashed with Syria-backed forces as well.

Similarly, on the campaign trail, Trump blamed Saudi Arabia for the 9/11 Attacks and called for the release of the “28 Pages” that reported on links between Saudi government and the 9/11 hijackers. As president, Trump has showered praise on the Saudis as a vital partner in countering extremism.

Candidate Trump also often suggested it would be nice if US-Russia relations improved. President Trump has taken no concrete steps toward this goal–and the aforementioned bombing of the Russia-backed Syrian government was a significant setback.

Far from bringing a radical and necessary change to US foreign policy, Donald Trump has shown remarkable continuity with past administrations. If anything, he has managed to exacerbate the worst effects of US foreign policy by giving the military a freer hand and producing more casualties. But the few useful changes he suggested during the campaign trail are difficult to spot.

Indeed, in most respects, Trump’s foreign policy has been the same as Obama’s, just with worse rhetoric and even more bombs.

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Read Scott Horton's new book Fool's Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan