Trump touts 12 foreign policy achievements amid impeachment

His friendship toward Israel featured prominently in a letter to Nancy Pelosi.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Lake Charles, Louisiana, U.S., October 11, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Lake Charles, Louisiana, U.S., October 11, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)
US President Donald Trump penned a long letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the eve of the impeachment vote. Most commentaries on the letter examined his allegations about the impeachment, but did not look closely at the section where Trump flaunted his record over the last several years in office. It is worth inquiring into what he sees as accomplishments, as well as what he didn’t mention.
Trump provides a list of around twelve major accomplishments, among several other domestic policy achievements. The focus on foreign policy is due to the fact that this is one area where Trump controls the agenda. As commander in chief, he can withdraw forces from Syria, as he said he would do in December 2018 and October 2019.
He can also decide to leave the 18-year war in Afghanistan, which he has sought to do this year. He can walk away from various treaties or slap sanctions on China or Iran. In fact, sanctions have become a favorite of the Trump administration, particularly the Treasury and State Department, seeking to target individuals.
The centerpiece of Trump’s letter was a list of pro-Israel accomplishments. He detailed the “recognition of Israel’s capital, opening the American Embassy in Jerusalem, and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.” These were key decisions made between December 2017 and March 2019.
The administration has also changed US policy on Israeli communities in the West Bank, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has given Israel clear support for operations against Iran’s presence in Syria and elsewhere.
Numerous high-level military visits have taken place to Israel in recent months, including the visit of Centcom chief Gen. Kenneth McKenzie as well as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley and Air Force commander Gen. David Goldfein, who all came in November. And the Deputy Chief of the IDF General Staff Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir visited the US in mid-December.
Trump said he was proud that the US had created the first new “branch of the United States Military since 1947, the Space Force.” Space Force was initially opposed by Trump’s first Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, however, Mattis changed his views in August 2018, seeking to define a space mission for the force. Space Force may come into being in 2020 as a budget is finally passed and US Code Title 10 is amended.
Trump authorized the space command in August 2019. No one seems to know exactly what the force will do, or how it will work with the air force and US Air Mobility Command assets.
Trump also highlighted the defeat of ISIS, a defeat he has said happened several times.
He mentioned the “killing of the world’s number one terrorist leader, [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi.” Baghdadi was killed in an October 26 US raid.
Trump also heralded “the replacement of the disastrous NAFTA trade deal with the wonderful USMCA (Mexico and Canada); a breakthrough Phase One trade deal with China; [and] massive new trade deals with Japan and South Korea.”
As part of Trump’s transactional foreign policy doctrine, he wants the Koreans to pay more for having US forces defend the peninsula. According to CNN, the president is seeking almost $5 billion from Seoul, but the agreement hasn’t been finalized. North Korea is bristling with threats. US envoy Stephen Biegun has asked North Korea to “get this done,” asking the North to come to the negotiating table.
Trump didn’t discuss Iran sanctions, which are announced almost weekly, but he did celebrate the “withdrawal from the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal," which took place in May 2018. Iran announced new testing on centrifuges this week, and the US is concerned about Iranian-backed attacks in Iraq.
Trump says that the US cancelled “the unfair and costly Paris Climate Accord” and says that America is “becoming the world’s top energy producer.” The Paris accord was drafted in 2015; the US left it in 2017. A recent climate discussion in Madrid called COP25 failed to come to key agreements this week.
Lastly, the American leader underlined a “colossal reduction in illegal border crossings, the ending of Catch-and-Release, and the building of the Southern Border Wall.”
The list of Trump’s policy changes reflect his overall worldview, which uses trade and sanctions to either punish or reward. It trends toward transactional approaches and assertions that the US is “unfairly” treated abroad. In this respect, he wants to withdraw US support from what he sees as waste.
He wants to rebuild the military without using it abroad; he also appears to see Israel as one of America’s key and reliable allies, having not mentioned many other countries positively in the letter.
Overall, Trump’s letter provides an insight into a very different worldview than what might have been found under previous administrations. Gone are the big ideas: no “new world order” of George Bush Sr. or making the world safe for democracy as Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush would have liked. None of Kennedy’s free world talk, Richard Nixon’s détente, or Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire.” Instead, it is primarily trade first. Here, he channels more Calvin Coolidge on the “chief business of the American people is business,” with a tiny bit of the Teddy Roosevelt interest in pushing America’s military power to new heights.
But like Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, no list of foreign policy or other achievements saved him from impeachment. In fact, it was chiefly a transactional approach to policies in Ukraine that gave the Democrats in Congress the fuel to impeach Trump.