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Shadow Government: Trump Doesn’t Deserve Any Credit for His Disruptive Foreign Policy Trump Doesn’t Deserve Any Credi...
The collapse of U.S. President Donald Trump’s summit in Hanoi with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month has rightly generated withering critiques from across the political spectrum. The near-consensus is that Trump showed up in Hanoi with no plan, no preparation, no coordination with allies, and, unsurprisingly, he left with no deal. This moment—the latest in a series of such failures—should signal the death knell of a persistent myth: that Trump’s disruptive style of foreign policy is an asset rather than a liability.
On the campaign trail and in office, Trump has done his best to propagate this myth. As candidate Trump said in 2016: “We must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything. We’re sending troops. We tell them. We’re sending something else. We have a news conference. We have to be unpredictable. And we have to be unpredictable starting now.” Trump has continued in this vein, tweeting his policy goals with abandon because, as one administration official told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, “permanent destabilization creates American advantage”—or, as another official put it, “We’re America, bitches.”
Trump’s followers inevitably praise this approach—including Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who attempted to salvage Trump’s Hanoi disaster by comparing it to President Ronald Reagan’s decision to walk away from his Reykjavik summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. But Trump’s followers aren’t the only ones defending his approach. Observers within the traditional foreign-policy world—aligned with both major parties, but hardly fans of Trump—have also touted the president’s supposed unconventional wisdom. The Atlantic Council’s Frederick Kempe credits Trump for a “refreshing willingness” to take on issues, including Iran’s malign behavior, North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and China’s unfair trade practices, that his predecessors “ineffectually kicked down the road.” Ivo Daalder, former President Barack Obama’s ambassador to NATO, concedes that Trump’s disruptions are “leading to some very healthy debate about what are our goals” for U.S. relations with the world.
To be sure, Trump has garnered more consistent criticism than admiration from foreign-policy experts, and proponents of the disruption narrative often hasten to acknowledge Trump’s flaws, even when giving him credit. But the myth of the efficacy of Trump’s disruptions isn’t incidental to his policy failures. After all, Trump’s unpredictable approach didn’t deliver in Hanoi and has failed elsewhere. There are clear reasons why.
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