Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



After a rocky first weekend as president, Donald Trump settled down this week to implementing his foreign policy agenda. Initially his emphasis is on trade relations with the world; after that he's expected to tackle the political/security issues involving Russia, China, Iran, and NATO. Here's the opening salvo in his Inauguration Address in Washington on January 20:

"For many decades we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry," he declared. "We've made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon. One by one the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind."

Trump pledged that "From this day forward, it's going to be only America first: Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs."

One pundit called it Trump's "manifesto" in foreign policy. Skeptics wondered if he was still in campaign mode, or did he really mean to turn these words into policy. That was answered last Monday when Trump announced that he was cancelling the Trans-Pacific-Partnership that Barack Obama had spent years negotiating with eleven other Pacific trading nations, including Japan, South Korea, and Australia.

Trump announced that he would soon discuss the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They will visit Washington in coming weeks. He didn't pledge, as he did during the campaign, to scrap NAFTA, but his intent is clear: U.S. companies that move jobs to Mexico would be taxed on their products imported into the U.S.

The president met last week with British Prime Minster Theresa May to discuss trade relations following Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. They will confer about the future of NATO, which Britain strongly supports. May also hopes to reestablish the special relationship that London previously enjoyed with Washington.

The president gave few specifics in his speech regarding national security policy: "We will seek friendship and good will with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. {Emphasis added} We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example." He pledged to "reinforce old alliances and form new ones, and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth."

What should we make of Mr. Trump's nationalist manifesto? Here are three conclusions:

First, we should understand it's a fundamental challenge to U.S. trade policy pursued by every president since World War II. Still, this is not similar to isolationist trade policies of the 1920s; instead, it's a call to give highest priority to U.S. interests, not global ones that place world order interests ahead of economic ones to the detriment of American industries and workers.

In sum, Donald Trump is convinced that unless America puts its own economic house in order, it will lose its standing as the premier world power.

A second conclusion is that his radical, nationalist policies will be reviewed and debated by Congress. That's particularly so when his trade policies require congressional ratification, illustrated when Congress failed to approve Obama's TPP agreement. Mr. Trump's negotiations with Mexico and Canada on NAFTA revision will be scrutinized by several congressional committees, and Republicans as well as Democrats will insist on having their inputs.

Finally, the president has only a limited time to get his major policies approved by Congress, because the off-year elections of 2018 will evaluate his record of achievements. As a result, he will need to show significant progress on his pledge to "bring American jobs back." He must also demonstrate that America has increased its influence abroad after what he sees as its decline during recent years. Whether the Trump brand of nationalism will endure is a large question mark.

File last modified on Friday, 27-JAN-2017 8:45 AM EST

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