As President Trump’s foreign policy successes mount, an increasingly despondent foreign policy establishment is discovering its own blindness.
Recall, it was dozens of foreign policy professionals who took the lead in insisting that Trump’s temperament, instincts, and demeanor were entirely unsuited to the world stage — and that they could not, in good faith, serve in his administration.
Turns out that far more often than not, he’s been right and they’ve been wrong.
They’re not handling it well.
Take, for instance, a recent article in The Atlantic grappling with a critical question that undoubtedly keeps many elite “thought leaders” up at night: Why is Donald Trump’s foreign policy working so well? The deeply troubling nature of the question is clear from the headline: “Donald Trump Stumbles Into a Foreign-Policy Triumph.” The subheading helpfully explains: “The president, however inadvertently, may be reminding the world of the reality of international relations.”
Could it possibly be that the wisest thing Trump has ever done has been to sideline the alleged experts who have dominated foreign policy circles for decades?
The possibility apparently never occurred to anyone within The Atlantic’s august readership.
After all, no lesser a foreign policy luminary than Henry Kissinger provided the opening quote (albeit a year-and-a-half ago): “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretenses… It doesn’t necessarily mean that he knows this, or that he is considering any great alternative. It could just be an accident.”
The “analysis” continues. “Trumportunities,” it seems, arise whenever “Trump creates chances to solve long-running international problems that a conventional leader would not.” Oddly, that seems to happen quite often; the article cites issues central to the futures of Europe, China, and the Middle East (as well as the U.S.). How does he do it? Apparently his unique “combination of instinct, temperament, and capriciousness” reminds the world of a fundamental reality: power matters.
The world needed a reminder, it seems, because our elite thinkers accidentally omitted this minor point from their finest theories of international relations. Thanks to that seemingly inconsequential oversight, President “Trump’s foreign-policy strategy (if one even accepts that there is such a thing)” has yielded positive results that “few thought possible.”
Presumably that means that few members of our foreign policy elite thought it possible; after all, who else has thoughts that matter? Certainly not the deplorables who’ve long wondered why common sense has been prohibited from entering the Beltway — or academic seminar rooms.
At least one thinking person — an unnamed British diplomat — found a way to reconcile the failed brilliance of our elite with the successful blundering of our president: “The only clear strength of Trump’s foreign policy is his unpredictability, which has the power to unsettle the United States’ adversaries… Trump appears to understand American strength more instinctively than Obama but, unlike his predecessor, doesn’t seem to have anything close to a strategy to go alongside this insight.”
Of course! President Obama — the ultimate elite thinker — had pursued a strategic “cautious multilateralism” whose “successes” included the Iran Deal and the Paris Climate Accord. The only limitations to this brilliant strategy stemmed from having forgotten that “he who carries the biggest stick retains his dominance, so long as he is prepared to use it.” Oops!
Meanwhile, Trump has no idea what he’s doing, but when folks think that the strongest guy is crazy, they stay out of his way. Which is (barely) okay with the elite — as long as his luck holds out. But luck is no replacement for the deep strategic thinking of the Obama years — when we secured numerous signatures on complex international agreements that did nothing to improve either Iran’s behavior or the global climate.
Maybe. Far be it from me to disagree with an elite whose conventional brilliance I’ve spent decades questioning. But here’s an alternative hypothesis:
Our foreign policy elite — like most of our elite thinkers — are self-important blowhards trapped in theoretical constructs divorced from human nature, history, and empirical reality. They use their superior command of irrelevant factual specifics and personal relationships to browbeat anyone who questions their brilliance. They’re directly responsible for prolonging most of the world’s “intractable” problems. They mock the “simplemindedness” of anyone who attempts to inject common sense into international relations. With notable exceptions, they are a deep part of the problem.
And they’re in shock because, for the first time in decades, a leader possessing common sense is willing to ignore them.
Donald Trump does, in fact, have a foreign policy strategy: Pay attention to world leaders. Listen to what they say. Watch their behavior. Figure out what’s really important to them. Think about what we want from them. Then act accordingly.
No wonder it’s lost on so many of our finest “thought leaders.”
Bruce Abramson is the President of Informationism, Inc., a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, and the founder of the American Restoration Institute. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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