Last week marked the 100th day of President Donald Trump’s administration. This moment is often viewed as a litmus test to determine whether the President will be successful or not. Has the President been successful implementing his agenda? Has he passed anything through Congress? How has he dealt with foreign policy challenges? These are the questions that the political pundits try to answer when they discuss the passing of a President’s first 100 days. It should come as no surprise that for the past several weeks the news media has been using the occasion to denounce President Trump’s time in office.
The narrative being run by the news media is that President Trump’s first 100 days have been a complete failure. They point to several items to reinforce this, including the overturning of his executive order on immigration, the inability to repeal and replace Obamacare, and having no virtually no Congressional victories to speak of. However, if you subscribe to this narrative, you are ignoring some crucial points in which President Donald Trump has truly made significant progress. In 100 days, President Donald Trump has completely reshaped United States foreign policy.
When President Trump took power, he promised many things, one of which was a future without foreign military entanglements. Many were surprised when the President stuck Syrian airfields in response to the Syrian Government’s gassing of Syrian civilians. While the progressive-left hailed this as a foreign policy misstep, they missed the mark. By giving this one order, the President signaled the return of a foreign policy based on morality, akin to the posture of President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush. This was a stark reversal from the Obama-era strategy of tolerating bad State-actors. By acting so definitively in the face of man-made horror, President Trump re-asserted the United States as the leader of the international community. After eight years of the United States taking backstage under President Obama’s guidance, the United States is once again front and center, dictating the rules of the game to the players in Syria.
President Trump followed up his warning shot in Syria with a stare down with North Korea. The criticism directed at the President because of this move was harsh, as the tensions in the Korean peninsula shocked world financial markets. Although the Dow Jones Industrial average reached the highest point in its history on March 1 2017, the tension with North Korea that has played out since then has left the Dow Jones in a slump, having not surpassed that mark since then. However, President Donald Trump’s actions have political benefits that the story of the markets do not tell. The President’s posturing serves to instill confidence in the international community that the United States is serious about nuclear non-proliferation, as well as a source of leverage overage China.
Nuclear non-proliferation is a doctrine supported by the majority of the international community, which supports preventing those states who do not have nuclear weapons from obtaining them. The idea behind this being that the fewer countries that have nuclear weapons, the better. Some would argue that President Barrack Obama was a strong supporter of nuclear non-proliferation, given the fact that President Obama negotiated the START II Treaty with Russia, led diplomatic efforts with North Korea over their nuclear program, and culminated his Presidency with the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Yet when viewed through the often shocking lens of reality, these moves did little to further the nuclear non-proliferation movement, they actually weakened the nuclear non-proliferation effort. The Start Treaty with Russia was supposed to lower the number of active nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia’s arsenals, but we know that since the START Treaty went into effect in 2011, Russia’s deployed nuclear arsenal has actually increased. The olive branch that President Obama offered to North Korea in his inaugural speech was thrown back in his face as North Korea increased its proliferation efforts with multi-stage rocket launches and tested multiple nuclear devices. And finally, while it was hailed as a diplomatic “game-changer”, the Iran Nuclear Deal not only guaranteed Iran the ability to create nuclear weapons in the future but also bankrolled Iran’s ability to develop inter-continental ballistic missiles upon which Iran will one day place those devices.
President Donald Trump’s posture towards North Korea marks a polar shift from the Obama-era doctrine of “strategic patience” to an assertive policy of “strategic impatience”. President Trump has declared that he will not sit by idly while North Korea continues its march towards nuclear aggression. Our friends in the international community finally understand that the United States will be there to support them in making sure that nuclear weapons do not make their way into the wrong hands. This confidence in United States leadership goes a long way to maintaining international order and fostering good-will. Some of the most thankful countries are South Korea, Japan, Australia and the many other countries in the region.
In turning up the heat on North Korea, President Donald Trump has also gained a point of leverage on the People’s Republic of China. In the past China has used North Korea as a bargaining chip in relations with the United States and other regional powers. China would do so by allowing North Korea to sufficiently agitate the United States and other powers, and then would offer to use its economic and political sway over North Korea in return for concessions from the United States and the international community. However, at this point in time China can’t afford for a conflict to break out on the Korean Peninsula because China needs to put all of its efforts towards spurring economic growth, which has been sagging over the past decade.
The primacy of economic growth as the lynchpin of legitimacy for the Communist Party cannot be overshadowed. Since Deng XiaoPing reformed China’s economic policies in the late 70’s, light-speed economic growth has been the norm and the justification for the existence of many of the ills in Chinese society. Yet in recent years China’s economic growth has significantly slowed despite massive Government intervention. While the Chinese populous is willing to tolerate authoritarianism, dire pollution, and the suppression of individual rights so long as the economy is doing well, the people may not be as easily placated once the economy hits the brakes. Such a scenario could easily lead to civil unrest, which is the kryptonite to the Chinese Communist Party.
Given the likelihood of spillover across the North Korean border into China, any breakout of conflict in the Korean Peninsula would necessitate some type of reaction from Beijing. Such conflict would threaten Chinese financial markets, commercial interests, and control of it’s border with North Korea, thus necessitating some type of Chinese response, whether politically or militarily. The stress placed on the Chinese economy by conflict in North Korea would undercut Chinese attempts to maintain economic stability. Therefore, by increasing tensions with Pyongyang, the United States is pressuring China to give concessions to the United States, as opposed to in the past where the United States would have to beg China to cool down North Korea.
These incidents in Syria and North Korea represent a return to a more conventional, moral, and assertive United States foreign policy. Though many critics have been judging President Trump’s first 100 days by some of his failures, we cannot overlook his accomplishments. It will be extremely interesting to see where we go from here, especially when President Donald J. Trump decides to focus his attention on Iran.
Written by Solomon Schoonover
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