Much has been made of Sec. Tillerson’s recent speech elaborating upon President Trump’s “America First” foreign policy. Critics allege it makes a grave error by divorcing American values from US foreign policy. Supporters suggest that it represents a bold new era of American confidence and power. Both miss the mark by attributing any sort of strategic or ideological coherence whatsoever to the Trump administration.
Critics of “America First” hear echoes of Lindbergh, and darkly suggest the phrase indicates fascist sympathies. While “America First’s” checkered past doubtlessly helps sell it to the shadier parts of Mr. Trump’s base, it must be noted that Trump only started using “America First” after it was used to describe his foreign policy in an interview. Mr. Trump, it must be noted, was not aware what the interviewer was referencing, nor that he was doing so in a negative fashion. While parts of the Trump administration identify as part of a global far-right, Trump himself lacks the intelligence and discipline for a coherent ideology. Thus, so far as the President remains the final arbiter of his administration’s values, the Trump administration does not stand for much internationally beyond anti-trade sentiments and an inchoate hatred of Mexicans.
Supporters of Trump’s policies see a hardnosed realpolitik. This is delusional. The Trump administration has stayed silent as Russia interfered in the electoral process of the United States and its allies. The US Navy has not engaged in a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea since Jan. 20. All the Tomahawks in the world cannot erase the feeble and supine approach Trump has taken to Moscow and Beijing. The much-vaunted Taiwan call was not a masterstroke of strategy, it was the error of an amateur who didn’t know any better, panicked, and capitulated. The fact that China now feels bold enough to suggest it has a right to veto who the PACOM commander is speaks volumes as to how strong the PRC thinks Trump’s America is.
Normally, this would be the part where solutions would be offered for the problems noted. However, the State Department and DoD are critically understaffed. Furthermore, the Trump administration feels no great need to fill these positions, as it desires to kill the administrative state and replace it with Jared Kushner. Therefore, the United States cannot be said to possess the tools needed to properly address the situation, nor can it be realistically expected to in the near future. In short, we are probably doomed.