President Donald Trump talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump looking on. (White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
Donald Trump is touting his “success” in international relations on the campaign trail, but his actual record is a far cry from his misleading boasts.
Formost, Trump claims that he kept the United States out of “new wars” during his administration. But a number of his actions exacerbated international tensions leading to crises in the Middle East, Asia and Ukraine.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine actually dates back to 2014, when Vladimir Putin sent Russian forces into Crimea and the Donbas region in a limited excursion that led to combat with Ukraine.
The war in Ukraine raged throughout Trump’s term in office. Despite claiming close ties to Putin, Trump did nothing to stop Russian aggression.
Instead, he tried to extort the nascent democratic government in Ukraine to fabricate an investigation to smear his 2020 Democratic political opponent Joe Biden and to foster a false narrative that Ukraine, not Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Trump blocked payment of a congressionally-mandated $400 million military aid package as part of the attempted quid pro quo deal with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Trump also used his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr, to pressure Ukraine and other foreign governments to cooperate in supporting conspiracy theories concerning American politics.
After the plot was exposed by a whistleblower in 2019, Congress under Democratic control launched an impeachment investigation. In January 2020, the Government Accountability Office, a non-partisan watchdog, concluded that the White House broke federal law by withholding Congress-approved military aid to Ukraine.
He was ultimately impeached by the House, but acquitted in the Senate.
In the Middle East, Trump delegated much of his authority to son-in-law Jared Kushner, who joined the administration as a “senior advisor.”
Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Photo: White House)
Kushner was tasked with forging peace agreements in the region, but several of Trump’s actions served to weaken the U.S presence and radicalize Iran and its Islamic proxies.
Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and offically recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights destabilized the Middle East.
Trump’s attempt at an Israeli-Palenstinian peace plan, negotiated by Kushner, was dismissed out of hand by the Palestinians, who call the terms too harsh and one-sided.
His aggressive support of Israel stifled peace negotiations and made the prospect of a peaceful resolution virtually impossible.
Trump’s refusal to call out Israel and encourage democratic reforms further isolated the U.S. from the international community and weakened our standing in the world.
Relations with Iran went downhill when, in May 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew from the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal.
Five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States— and the European Union’s 27 member states reached the agreement in 2015.
Essentially, Iran agreed to halt development of nuclear weapons by eliminating its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent, cutting 20,000 gas centrifuges by about two-thirds and suspending production of weapons-grade uranium for 13 years.
In exchange for the agreement and allowing international inspectors, Iran won gradual relief from both UN and national sanctions that were crippling its economy.
Along with withdrawing from the agreement, Trump reimposed sanctions, causing Iran to dramatically increase its support of Middle East militant groups and to relaunch its nuclear weapons research.
Trump increased the level of tension in the region in January 2020 by authorizing a missile strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. Afterward, Iran declared that it would no longer abide by restrictions placed on its nuclear weapons program.
Trump’s actions set the stage for Iran to brutally suppress anti-government protests at home and provide military aid to Russia in its fight against Ukraine. To date, Iran has supplied thousands of armed drones that Russia has unleashed on Ukrainian cities, killing dozens of civilians.
Despite its open and growing hostility, Iranian officials also expressed a willingness to rejoin the deal, provided U.S. officials made assurances it would lift sanctions and rejoin the deal as well.
The Biden administration tried for two years to revive the agreement, but finally declared efforts “dead” after Iran came up with new demands that were untenable to the West, according to Foreign Affairs magazine.
The administration made a last-ditch effort to revive talks with a temporary deal that involved the release of Americans held hostage by the Islamic Republic in exchange for $6 billion in frozen oil revenues.
The deal came with the stipulation that funds could only be used by international organizations for humanitarian purposes.
The administration hoped the deal would lead to a renewal of talks on Iran’s nuclear program, but Republicans in Congress have widely attacked and misconstrued the aid, undercutting those efforts.
Republicans claim Biden “showed weakness” on Iran which emboldened Hamas, an Iranian proxy, to attack Israel on Oct. 7 in a brutal and bloody incursion.
For its part, Iran said it was unaware Hamas planned to attack, even though it supports the group.
Kushner has also come under fire for his efforts to build diplomatic ties between Israel and Arab nations, and his suspicious ties to Saudi Arabia.
Trump refused to hold Saudi leadership accountable for the brutal murder of US/Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in part to promote a $110 billion arms deal between the U.S. and Saudia Arabia,the largest in the kingdom’s history.
Trump’s son-in-law and adviser had a direct hand in structuring the arms deal, two U.S. officials and three former White House officials told ABC News.
Kushner received a $2 billion investment from a fund led by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, six months after Trump left the White House in Jan. 2021.
The United Arab Emirates and Qatar also invested hundreds of millions of dollars into Kushner’s private-equity firm, The New York Times reported in March this year.
One of Trump’s signature accomplishments in the Middle East, the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020, has also been cited for increasing tension in the region.
The accord, broadened diplomatic relations between Israel and two Arab states, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which signed largely to win Saudis support against Iran. Saudi Arabia refused to sign on its own.
In the two years since, the accord has been criticized for failing to include a meaningful solution to the Israel-Palistinian conflict.
Trump’s Middle East peace plan was derided as the “joke of the century” by Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper.
It may have also fostered the perception among Hamas leaders that the Palestinian question was losing relevance and fading away in Middle East negotiations. Hamas claimed one goal of its attack was to “shatter the status quo.”
It was necessary to “change the entire equation and not just have a clash,” Khalil al-Hayya, a member of Hamas’s top leadership body, told The New York Times in Doha, Qatar. “We succeeded in putting the Palestinian issue back on the table, and now no one in the region is experiencing calm.”
Hamas leaders also said it is their goal to create a permanent state of conflict with Israel, a clear indication that it has lost faith in a peaceful solution. Iran and Islamist terror groups like Hezbollah have threatened a wider war.
President Biden has kept them in check with a major show of force. He dispatched two aircraft carrier task forces to the region. The administration has also retaliated swiftly after rocket and drone attacks on U.S. Syrian bases.
Trump’s actions in Syria also threw the region into disarray. In 2019, he withdrew U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and turned U.S. bases over to Russia, forcing a humiliating withdrawal by U.S. troops.
According to the Center for American Progress, the move left U.S. Syrian policy in a “shambles.”
“This rash decision—absent any coordination with U.S. allies or Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) partners on the ground—paved the way for a long-threatened Turkish incursion into Syria. As predicted by outside experts and professionals within the U.S. government, the incursion has sparked further violence, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and forced the SDF to cut a deal with the Assad regime and its Russian backers. It has also shattered American credibility and set off a mad dash by all sides to fill the security vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal.“
Trump fared no better in his catastrophic 2020 peace deal with the Taliban, ending U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Although the agreement posed a number of conditions on the Taliban, none were met.
Taliban leaders characterized the agreement as a “surrender.”
Even in conservative circles, the agreement was considered a disaster. “This collapse goes back to the capitulation agreement of 2020. The Taliban didn’t defeat us. We defeated ourselves,” said former Trump National Security advisor H.R. McMaster, during a Bari Weiss podcast.
In October 2020, Trump started calling for all troops to be home by Christmas that year, ahead of the negotiated withdrawal date.
Violence in the country, primarily from improvised explosive devices, had already started surging the last few months of his administration, according to the United Nations. Even so, Trump drew down U.S. forces from 15,000 troops to 2,500, which was an untenable level to conduct an evacuation.
Following his election defeat, Trump secretly ordered a rapid withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Somalia, but senior officials never followed through on the plan, according to testimony released by the congressional January 6 committee.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley said he was shocked when he saw the withdrawal orders, signed by Trump on Veterans Day 2020. “It is odd. It is nonstandard,” Milley told the House Jan. 6 committee. “It is potentially dangerous. I personally thought it was militarily not feasible nor wise.”
Keith Kellogg, former national security advisor to Vice President Mike Pence, went even further. He called it “a tremendous disservice to the nation” and implementing it would be “catastrophic.”
Trump’s order did not go through any of the traditional chain of command protocols, and ultimately senior staff believed it did not have legal standing requiring them to follow through with the plan, according to Bob Woodward’s book, “Peril.”
In all, there were 45 combat deaths among U.S. service members in Afghanistan, as well as 18 “non-hostile” deaths, during the Trump administration.
Four U.S.troops were killed in Niger in 2017 in an ongoing conflict. Trump did nothing to avenge their deaths.
Trump’s foreign policy missteps went beyond the Ukraine, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Trump withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council, attacked the International Criminal Court, and sanctioned a prosecutor working on Israel/Palestine issues.
Trump weakened international institutions that work to preserve world peace and undercut NATO, jeopardizing U.S. national security.
Trump, who claims he was the “peace president” supported the Saudi- and UAE-led intervention in the war in Yemen, which led to the deaths of thousands of civilians.
He used his veto power to override bipartisan majorities in Congress that tried to stop U.S. military involvement and block the flow of arms to the conflict.
Trump also shredded the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty that ensured nuclear transparency between the U.S., much of Europe, and Russia, and failed to extend the critical New START Treaty with Russia, touching off a new nuclear arms race.
“Trump’s amateurish handling of North Korea offers another example of foreign-policy ineptitude,” wrote Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy magazine.
“After exchanging some childish taunts on Twitter with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump had the good sense to turn to diplomacy instead. Instead of orchestrating a systematic negotiation to limit North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, however, Trump opted for a pair of “reality show” summits with Kim that were long on spectacle and short on substance.”
Throughout his administration, Trump also sought to pressure China’s leaders to become more responsive to American priorities, but never achieved the results the administration expected and caused just the opposite to happen.
China grew less restrained, areas of confrontation intensified and areas of cooperation vanished, according to a Brookings Institution study.
Trump retaliated by raising or enacting tariffs on Chinese goods that ended up punishing U.S. companies and consumers. China, in turn, raised its own tariffs, nearly wrecking the U.S. agricultural sector.
One of Trump’s signature accomplishments in U.S./China relations, the so-called “historical trade deal” is wildly considered a failure. China never followed through on its singular commitment to buy $200 billion of additional US exports before Dec. 31, 2021.
Trump’s China policy ended up costing the United States economy nearly a quarter million jobs, according to the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.
Financial titan Goldman Sachs said in a 2019 report that tariffs levied on Chinese goods the previous year wre being paid for “entirely” but U.S. businesses and households.
The conclusion was a stark contrast to Trump’s repeated boasts, claiming the tariffs were generating “billions” of dollars for U.S. coffers.
China also renewed its rhetoric about taking Taiwan by force. Biden, however, made clear any effort to attack the island nation would be met with U.S. force.
If Trump’s four years in office witnessed escalating trade tensions culminating in a trade war and sanctions on Chinese technology companies, Biden has keep the door open to negotiations.
The latest is a much-anticipated meeting between with President Xi Jinping at the APEC Summit in San Francisco this Wednesday (Nov. 15). The meeting, which provides the best opportunity yet to ease tensions, caps a series of interactions designed to address gobal issues, according to a report.
Leading up to the 2016 election, Trump called U.S. foreign policy “a complete and total disaster.”
“Although Trump can claim a few foreign-policy successes, his overall record is dismal. America’s adversaries are more dangerous than they were in 2016, the United States is weaker, sicker, and more divided, relations with many U.S. allies are worse, and any aspirations to moral leadership that Americans might have harbored have been badly tarnished,” wrote Walt.