Trump’s Withdrawal Strategy

As promised on the campaign trail, the president has focused on pulling the U.S. out of “one-sided” international agreements. But his moves might have the unintended effect of handing more power to Congress.

President Trump makes a statement on Iran policy in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Friday.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Oct. 13, 2017, 3:35 p.m.

With Friday’s decision to undercut the Iran nuclear deal, President Trump has again called attention to how much he is driven by opposition to international agreements struck by his predecessors. At the nine-month mark of his presidency, the action brings in sharp focus what an “America First” foreign policy means in practice.

The president, who views himself as a master negotiator, made clear in his announcement that he sees the Iran deal—reached in 2015 by the United States, China, France, Russia, Great Britain, Germany, and the European Union—as emblematic of what he ran against. His speech on Friday included 59 words that succinctly captured his view. The Iran deal, he said, is “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. The same mind-set that produced this deal is responsible for years of terrible trade deals that have sacrificed so many millions of jobs in our country to the benefit of other countries. We need negotiators who will much more strongly represent America’s interests.”

The president chafes at any restrictions placed on him, the United States, the military, or U.S. businesses, and he has taken aim at any international treaties or agreements that prevent them from operating freely.

In his short time in office, Trump has pulled the United States out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, threatened to withdraw from both the North American Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement, taken the United States out of the Paris climate accord, objected to extending the 2010 New START with Russia limiting the size of nuclear arsenals, ended membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and threatened to pull out of the U.N. Human Rights Council. He has also questioned the benefit to the United States of both the U.N. and the NATO alliance.

Richard Haass, a veteran diplomat who served in the State Department and National Security Council for two Republican presidents and is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted that the theme of Trump’s foreign policy is “the Withdrawal Doctrine,” and the slogan could be “leaving from behind.” Heather Conley, who also held top positions in the State Department under both Presidents Bush, calls it “the Shred Doctrine.” Trump, she told National Journal, “is shredding America’s engagement strategy, through alliances, multilateral organizations, and specific agreements, whether on free trade or security issues that we work with others to protect the United States.”

At the heart of the president’s objections is his firmly held belief that previous presidents—particularly Barack Obama—have been badly out-negotiated and have forgotten whom they represent. He voiced both those views in May when he pulled out of the Paris climate agreement. “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” he said pointedly. He added, “At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country? We don’t want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won’t be.” Repeatedly, he has argued that other countries have “taken advantage” of the United States and suggested the outcome would be more favorable in bilateral rather than multilateral talks.

Most foreign policy analysts see this as naïve and damaging to American credibility overseas. “The Trump administration says that ‘America First’ doesn’t mean ‘America alone.’ But Trump is driving a wedge between America and its traditional allies,” said P.J. Crowley, a retired Air Force colonel who served on President Clinton’s National Security Council and in Obama’s State Department. “In an integrated world, it makes little sense to just do bilateral trade agreements. Global supply chains don’t work that way.”

James Lewis, who worked in Ronald Reagan’s State Department and was a longtime foreign service officer, said some of the opposition to multilateral trade is based on “nostalgia for the 19th century, when we could hide behind two big oceans and didn’t have to worry about trade. Some of it is frustration with how multilateral organizations work.”

Crowley said foreign governments see Washington “in retreat and self-absorbed,” adding, “President Trump is actually not building a wall. He’s digging a hole, and it will take years to climb out of it.” Crowley contended that in all the agreements being scuttled by Trump “the United States got far more than it conceded.” Conley, who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed, saying, “I think most foreign interlocutors would say that the U.S. is a very, very tough negotiator.”

But she said Trump has been able to tap into the failure of presidents to explain the agreements. “The foreign policy elite in this country stopped talking to the American people and stopped explaining to them why … an agreement is important and what we get out of it.” She said if no one is properly explaining a multination treaty, “then you probably would be open to the idea that everybody is taking advantage of us.” She said the experts too often “speak an acronym-filled language that is not accessible to anyone.” Who, outside Washington, she asked, “knows what a G7 or a G20 is unless you follow these things?”

While Trump is a master at exploiting populist doubts, he is less skilled at mastering the details of the deals. Conley said the president may be surprised to find that his actions will shift some of the power from his White House to Capitol Hill—where the details matter. “Usually, most executive branches don’t want to give that much authority to Congress on trade and foreign policy,” she said. “That could be an unintended consequence now.”

What We're Following See More »
MANAFORT STEERED HIM WORK IN UKRAINE
Prosecutors Weighing Whether to Charge Greg Craig
14 hours ago
THE LATEST

A long-running federal investigation into former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig "is reaching a critical stage, presenting the Justice Department with a decision about whether to charge a prominent Democrat as part of a more aggressive crackdown on illegal foreign lobbying." Federal prosecutors in New York have transferred the case to Washington. ... The investigation centers on whether Mr. Craig should have disclosed work he did in 2012 — while he was a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom — on behalf of the Russia-aligned government of Viktor F. Yanukovych, then the president of Ukraine. The work was steered to Mr. Craig by Paul Manafort."

Source:
AUTHORIZED TO UNLOCK PHONES
Feds Raided Broidy's Offices Last Year
20 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Federal authorities raided the office of Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy last summer, seeking records related to his dealings with foreign officials and Trump administration associates, according to a sealed search warrant obtained by ProPublica. Agents were authorized to use the megadonor’s hands and face to unlock any phones that required fingerprint or facial scans."

Source:
REPUBLICANS SAID VOTE WAS A WASTE OF TIME
House Approves Resolution to Release Mueller Report, 420-0
4 days ago
THE DETAILS

"The House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the Justice Department to make special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings and full report public and available to Congress. The 420-0 vote came after a fiery debate on the House floor, during which some Democratic lawmakers were admonished for their criticisms of President Donald Trump. Republicans said the resolution was unnecessary and a waste of time, but ultimately joined Democrats to approve it. Four Republicans — Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan, Matt Gaetz of Florida, Paul Gosar of Arizona, and Thomas Massie of Kentucky — voted 'present.'"

Source:
SAME JUDGE THAT JUST SENTENCED MANAFORT
Stone Trial Set for Nov. 5
4 days ago
WHY WE CARE
IS MUELLER'S TOP PROSECUTOR
Andrew Weissmann Stepping Down
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"One of the most prominent members of special counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russia's attack on the 2016 presidential election will soon leave the office and the Justice Department, two sources close to the matter tell NPR. Andrew Weissmann, the architect of the case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, will study and teach at New York University and work on a variety of public service projects, including his longstanding interest in preventing wrongful convictions by shoring up forensic science standards used in courts, the sources added. The departure is the strongest sign yet that Mueller and his team have all but concluded their work."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login