By Joschka Fischer
The first year of Donald Trump's presidency brought many scandals, and even more incendiary tweets, but not a fundamental overhaul of US foreign policy. The big question for 2018 is whether the US will maintain foreign-policy continuity in the face of Trump's incentives to shake things up.
BERLIN – In the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, the damage wrought by his administration’s foreign policy fell well short of what had been feared.
Despite his thundering rhetoric and tweets dubbing North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “little rocket man,” the new US president did not start any wars, whether on the Korean Peninsula or in the South China Sea. There was no conflict over Taiwan, either, following Trump’s questioning of America’s longstanding “one China” policy.
In fact, rather than clashing with China, Trump seems to have forged a close personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. China’s leaders could hardly believe their luck when one of Trump’s first official acts was to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would have excluded China and shored up Western trade rules in the Asia-Pacific region. It was as if Trump wanted to make China, not America, great again.
Moreover, Trump did not start a trade war by imposing high tariffs on imports from major US trade partners such as China, Germany, and Japan. Despite his refusal to recertify the Iran nuclear deal, it remains in place. And the long-term consequences of his unilateral decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital remain to be seen.
Trump’s hope of cooperating more closely with Russia at the expense of US allies also went unrealized, and the official US position in the Ukrainian conflict has not changed. Of course, that is largely due to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election, which has made it impossible for Trump to reorient America’s Russia policy without triggering a domestic political firestorm.
Similarly, despite having been deemed “obsolete” by Trump, NATO has actually gained strength and legitimacy during the past year, owing to Russia’s military buildup and continued war in Eastern Ukraine. To be sure, Europeans will have to see to their own defense more than in the past. But that would have been no different under a Hillary Clinton presidency (though the message would have been couched in friendlier terms).