Trump Administration Faces Diverse Foreign Policy Challenges
By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
No matter who is elected president, each new American president always faces unexpected challenges from unlikely places or from ongoing trouble spots around the world. Donald Trump is no different.
Throughout the presidential campaign, foreign policy took a back seat to the economy. Even when Trump and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton spoke on global issues, it was always in a simplistic manner.
Now that Trump will assume the presidency, he faces numerous and turbulent challenges. Many of these challenges are left over from the Obama administration.
President Obama came into office on a campaign pledge to “end two wars.” However, he leaves the Oval Office with five ongoing conflicts – Yemen, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. In each case, the United States has to navigate through deteriorating conditions.
Continuing Crisis in the Middle East
The biggest challenge Trump faces is the contentious Middle East region. This problem has confounded every administration since that of President Harry S. Truman.
Obama leaves to Trump a war-weary Middle East. The destruction of the Islamic State is entering a decisive stage. There are ongoing military operations to oust terrorists from Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.
Eventually, ISIS will suffer defeat on the battlefield. But other issues still remain, such as what government will replace the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria.
It’s possible to defeat terrorist organizations. But it’s harder to establish order and governance in affected nations after a protracted war.
Trump’s Administration Needs Post-ISIS Strategy
The U.S. will have to be involved in a post-ISIS world. But to what extent will the Trump administration play a role? Whatever strategy is decided upon will have consequences for the United States.
How will the new administration handle Iran? Will Trump scrap the Iran nuclear agreement or focus his efforts on ensuring Iran complies with it?
Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign sends a confusing message to the Middle East. The Muslim world is still dealing with President Obama’s policies, the fallout from the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the impact of Iranian influence in the region.
The Middle East must also cope with Russia’s reemergence as a world power and Congressional action on the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). Passed this past summer by Congress over President Obama’s veto, JASTA gives U.S. courts jurisdiction for American citizens to sue foreign nations for physical injury or death occurring as a result of an international terrorist act inside the United States.
As a result, family members of people who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks can sue the Saudi Arabian government for damages because the terrorists were Saudi nationals.
Complex Middle East Conflicts
The Middle East is complex, with many problems for Trump’s administration to solve. There is an ongoing civil war in Syria, a war where Russia and Iran actively support the Syrian government.
Turkey is a NATO member with its own strategic interests in the Middle East conflict. Turkey is a Muslim nation that doesn’t align itself with U.S. strategy, especially as it relates to the Kurds.
The Trump administration must deal with all of these conflicting interests, conflicts and threats. Our Middle East allies view the threat from ISIS far differently than the U.S. For them, the most pressing threat comes from Iran.
The other challenge is the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian problem. Trump has said little about his solution to this conflict. Does the U.S. still support a two-state solution? What will be the U.S. strategy toward Egypt?
This is one conflict that can’t be relegated to the back burner. Egypt is too important to be ignored. To ignore its ongoing political and economic crisis would be a disaster.
Afghanistan is another crisis forgotten in U.S. foreign policy. The Obama administration reduced U.S. troop levels to where they are barely able to assist Afghan forces. The Taliban reconstituted itself and gained more territory since it was ousted from power in 2001.
Trump Needs Muslim World’s Help to Defeat Extremism
A Trump presidency must realize that any effective strategy to fight and defeat Islamist extremism and terrorism requires the Muslim world’s buy-in and partnership. Otherwise, any action in the Middle East is futile.
Whatever Trump stated on the campaign trail, he now has to articulate his vision for the Middle East. Trump must back up his strategy with action to alleviate the concern that America is a retrenching power.
How Will Trump Deal with a Bolder Russia?
The U.S. relationship with Moscow is at its lowest level since the Cold War. Whatever challenges the Middle East holds for the new administration, Russia must be part of any strategy.
Trump’s Mixed Signals to Russia
During the campaign, Trump gave conflicting signals about Russia. He never mentioned the forgotten war in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea.
Will Trump ease economic sanctions against Russia, something Putin desperately wants? Will the U.S. recognize the annexation of Crimea?
Any decision Trump makes has ramifications in European capitals. European leaders have shown a variety of positive and negative reactions to Trump, especially after Trump’s comments regarding NATO and our European allies not paying their fair share of defense obligations.
Trump offers mixed signals about Putin. Will he approach the relationship like a business deal or will he treat it more in tune with a geopolitical strategy? How will Trump deal with Putin’s involvement in Syria and the Middle East? Will Trump link the Ukraine, Crimea and Syria or deal with each nation separately?
Trump’s relationship with Putin extends beyond the borders of Russia and affects our relationship with Europe. How will China view that relationship – as a sign of weakness or of strength? China’s view of the U.S.-Russia relationship could affect Beijing’s expansion plans in the South China Sea.
Will Trump Take A Tough Stand toward China?
The biggest challenge Trump faces will be China, especially after his highly charged campaign rhetoric regarding international trade and its impact on the U.S. economy.
In the past, Trump railed against trade deals such as NAFTA and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union. Trump vigorously criticized the impending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim nations. This deal is a hedge against China’s increasing influence in the region and a key element of President Obama’s “pivot” toward Asia.
Can Trump Prevent Beijing’s South China Sea Expansion?
The South China Sea is a contentious area of concern. China is ramping up efforts to control this region. Some $5.3 trillion in trade passes through the South China Sea; how Trump deals with it will reverberate throughout the Pacific Rim.
If Trump imposes tariffs on Chinese imports and follows through with other anti-trade rhetoric from his campaign, that could destabilize the U.S. and global economy.
Trump’s administration will either be a calming influence or have a destabilizing impact on the global economy. The recovering U.S. economy will be similarly impacted.
Unforeseen Challenges Lie Ahead for New Trump Administration
Right now, the focus of Trump’s foreign policy is Russia, the Middle East and China. But beyond the traditional threats, there will be unexpected problems in areas of the world where they are least expected.
For example, the potential collapse of the Venezuelan government is right in our own backyard. If Venezuela collapses, that would destabilize neighboring countries, including Colombia and Brazil.
The Trump administration must cope with multiple geopolitical conflicts and foreign policy challenges, whether Trump likes it or not. His ability to cope with these worldwide battles will most likely depend upon his choice of cabinet members and their effectiveness in the federal government.