Trump Has Converted to Foreign-Policy Orthodoxy — For Now

The president has reversed himself on major international issues, but he could just as easily change his mind again.

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg and American president Donald Trump answer questions from reporters at the White House in Washington DC, April 12
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg and American president Donald Trump answer questions from reporters at the White House in Washington DC, April 12 (NATO)

NATO is no longer obsolete. Europe is “getting its act together.” Bashar Assad is the enemy, Russia is a foe and China a partner. Within the space of a few weeks, Donald Trump has completely reversed himself on all the major international issues.

I welcome the changes. Until recently, Trump disparaged the institutions of the West, mistook Assad for an ally against Islamists, cozied up to Vladimir Putin and needlessly antagonized China. His conversion to foreign-policy orthodoxy ought to make the world a safer place.

But what explains the shift? And can we count on Trump not to change his mind again?

Washington elites

Bill Powell argues in Newsweek that Trump has simply met reality:

Some in the White House say his presidency effectively began on April 4, when Bashar al-Assad dropped sarin gas on innocent civilians, killing 82 men, women and children. Others believe the president’s reality check was already in motion — that the appointment of H.R. McMaster, the brainy Army general, as head of the National Security Council was a signal that the grownups were taking charge of the White House.

Daniel W. Drezner gives the “grownups” more credit, writing in The Washington Post that the city’s establishment has co-opted the new president.

He lists more campaign promises Trump has broken: deciding against labeling China a currency manipulator; keeping the Export-Import Bank; canceling plans to somehow eliminate the national debt in its entirely.

As a candidate, Trump relished in scandalizing coastal elites. He staffed his White House with outsiders who came to Washington to uproot the old order.

Three months into his administration, several of the outsiders have already gone. Their leader, Steve Bannon, appears to have lost influence. Former Wall Street bankers and retired generals are on the ascendancy.

Applause

Drezner cites Mike Allen, who writes for Axios that Trump goes where the applause is loudest:

If that means being a full-throated birther, fine! If that means inciting hysterics about Mexicans, game on! If that means hugging NATO or smiling at corporate cronyism, Trump’s your man!

We saw this during last year’s presidential campaign. Once pro-choice, Trump went so far as to suggest there should be a “punishment” for abortion. Once in favor of background checks and a ban on assault rifles, Trump switched to becoming a Second Amendment absolutist.

That means we can’t expect his latest about-face to be his last. Trump’s foreign policy may suddenly be mainstream, but as soon as it becomes unpopular or politically inconvenient for him, he might just change his views again.

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