[Interview] On foreign policy, Trump may follow Kissinger’s advice

Posted on : 2017-01-20 16:14 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Expert says Trump’s rhetoric has been isolationist, but the team he has assembled is anything but
Donald T. Critchlow
Donald T. Critchlow

Donald T. Critchlow is Professor of History at Arizona State University, and an expert on the history of the US Republican Party, and conservatism in the US. He is the author of “Future Right: The Forging of a New Republican Majority”. He recently conducted an email interview with the Hankyoreh’s Washington correspondent, discussing the likely foreign policy of the incoming administration of President Elect Donald Trump.

Hankyoreh (Hani): What do you think will be the essence of Donald Trump’s foreign policy?

Donald T. Critchlow (Critchlow): Trump appears to be following the advice of Henry Kissinger. Working with nations with different national interests who are not necessarily friends with the US, while seeking agreement to work on issues of common interest, such as Russia in the Middle East, and China and North Korea.

Hani: What impact might this have on the Korean peninsula?

Critchlow: Trump‘s foreign policy should benefit South Korea. Tillerson in hearings pledged support to NATO. This was designed to reassure European allies. Asian allies South Korea and Japan should be reassured by this signal. Pressure will be brought on China to address North Korea’s nuclear advancement, which will be in South Korea’s interest.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric and tweets need to be separated from how his actual foreign policy will be conducted. His foreign policy team is composed of gimlet eyed realists. Much will have to be seen, but South Korea should feel confident in Trump’s appointments. South Korea pays a large share of American troops in South Korea already.

Hani: Do you agree that Trump’s foreign policy will be characterized by uncertainty, unpredictability, inconsistency?

Critchlow: Actually I think there is a consistency developing in his foreign policy appointments: realists. He has appointed three Russian hawks to his cabinet. Along with Dan Coats [Trump’s selection for Director of National Intelligence] and James Mattis [selection for Secretary of State], there is Mike Pomero at the CIA. Homeland Security John Kelley might be considered a hawk as well. There is an agreement in this team that we need peace through military strength and to exert American power in the world. Trump’s campaign rhetoric on foreign policy often appeared neo-isolationist, but his foreign policy team is anything but that.

Hani: Do you think that Trump’s foreign policy should be placed within the history of Jacksonian tradition? If yes, why?

Critchlow: Jackson’s foreign policy was expansionistic. Trump is not going to acquire new territories. Also Jackson did not try to build the military during his administration. Trump will. I think comparing Jackson and Trump on foreign policy is comparing apples and oranges. The one thing they share in common is Jackson wanted to promote international trade to benefit America.

Hani: What do you think are the historical roots of Trump‘s foreign policy?

Critchlow: Kissinger, balance world order, working with our allies, finding common ground with our enemies, and exerting American power when necessary. His team is wary about military intervention, but will use American power if necessary.

Hani: Why do you think Trump is trying to get closer with Russia in terms of strategy?

Critchlow: He is trying to reestablish relations with Russia, but on new grounds. Russian involvement is critical in the Middle East. Nonetheless, the Trump team is not pro-Russian

Hani: As Trump draws closer to Russia and takes a hard-line on China, what geopolitical impact might this have on the Middle East and Europe?

Critchlow: Trump is going to take a stronger stand on trade with China, which might be translated into an insistence that China push North Korea on nuclear disarmament.

Hani: Do you think that cabinets such as State department or Pentagon can manage the Mr. Trump’s unusual rhetoric or decisions?

Critchlow: Yes, I think so, but remember Obama stated in a press conference that he was drawing a red line in Syria, which upset the State Department.

Hani: Is there anything else you’d like to comment on?

Critchlow: At this point, Trump appears to be a businessman who knows he needs experts around him to accomplish his goals. The Obama foreign policy team was composed of politicos run from a politicized White House focused on Obama’s reelection and an ideological perspective that failed in the Middle East and in Asia with China.

There is much to be optimistic about at this early stage in Trump‘s appointments, but Obama left Trump a very messy world. The international environment Obama entered in 2008 was already messy. He didn’t leave it any better and arguably much worse in 2017.

By Yi Yong-in, Washington correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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