SAIS Students Nervous about US Foreign Policy under Trump

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Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the U.S. presidential election last week finds many foreign policy wonks beginning to think more seriously about how the incoming president-elect will manage the U.S.’ relations with the rest of the world.

U.S. foreign policy to date has developed two instruments to advance global stability and prosperity. One, a network of free trade agreements between the U.S. and others in the international community. Two, a series of alliance structures between the U.S. and its friends in Europe and Asia.

President-elect Trump has opposed and decried the use of these traditional U.S. foreign policy instruments, threatening to curtail American commitments to security alliances and trade agreements. A survey distributed by the Observer among SAIS students across the school’s three campuses in Washington, Bologna and Nanjing prior to the election suggests that many will view his administration’s foreign policy nervously.

For example, 60.3 percent of SAIS students agree that climate change is the most pressing issue facing the world today. However, Mr. Trump has called climate a change a “hoax” invented by the Chinese, and has vowed to “cancel” U.S. participation in the momentous Paris climate agreement signed last year.

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In a speech to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC in March 2016, Trump claimed that his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” but only 19.1 percent of SAIS students surveyed agreed that the Iran nuclear deal has emboldened Iran in a dangerous way. On Israel-Palestine relations, just beneath a quarter of SAIS students are neutral when asked that “solving the Palestinian question should be a priority for the next president.” For his part, Mr. Trump has underscored the importance of being a neutral party during negotiations, and claims to be a “big fan of Israel”.

SAIS students seem to take the biggest issue with Trump when it comes to relations with Asia. Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed agreed that the U.S. “pivot” to Asia should continue to be a foreign policy priority in the next administration. Mr. Trump thinks otherwise, suggesting that Japan and the Republic of Korea develop their own nuclear weapons in order to protect themselves from a proliferating North Korea. Elsewhere, Mr. Trump has proposed slapping 45 percent tariffs on Chinese imports and labeling China a currency manipulator. This kind of trade warfare would seriously fray what Secretary of State John Kerry once described at SAIS as the world’s “most consequential relationship.”

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It is still unclear how Mr. Trump will orient U.S. foreign policy. Mr. Trump’s campaign was characterized by often inconsistent and contradictory policy pronouncements. While Mr. Trump has claimed that Japan and the Republic of Korea should bolster their own defenses in the Asia-Pacific, he also believes that U.S. naval presence in the South China Sea should be increased to check an assertively postured China. A degree of clarity might be provided once Mr. Trump announces his pick for Secretary of State. According to the Wall Street Journal, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton are both in the running for the job.  Until then, the only words that can really be used to describe Mr. Trump’s foreign policy are volatility and uncertainty.

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