Foreign Policy Making is in the Hands of Novices

Foreign Policy Making is in the Hands of Novices


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

In the midst of all the legal activity in Washington there are several significant stories on the foreign policy front which truly ought to give one pause.  These matters are important both because of the substance as well as the people involved. This news suggests that the conduct of international relations in Washington over the next two years should indeed scare even the staunchest of President Trump’s supporters.

Recent discussions have been confirmed concerning Jared Kushner’s cozy relationship with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Their close contacts pre-date the beginning of the Trump Administration. They suggest that U.S. policy vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia as well as the entire Gulf region has been orchestrated in the interest of sustaining the Kushner-MBS relationship. This is true with respect to Yemen, Iran, Qatar as well as the Palestinians.

Kushner may be well intentioned especially with respect to how he believes his position could positively impact on Israel. Jared Kushner’s problem is that he has no experience in dealing regional issues–even with Israel—other than the fact that his family is personal friends with Netanyahu.

Like the President, Kushner assumes he can determine what is in America’s best interests by developing a personal relationship with people whose negotiating style and tactics are foreign to Western diplomacy. For U.S. policy in one of the most complex parts of the world to be in the hands of someone who has never dealt with Arabs except perhaps for investment purposes, places U.S.’s role in the region in grave jeopardy. This is without even addressing the Khashoggi incident which only underscored the naivety of the President’s son-in-law.

This also explains why the appointment of Heather Nauert to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations is totally consistent with an Administration which believes that policy making does not require knowledge or understanding, only personal relationships and communication skills. In both of these areas, Nauert is exactly like the President. She knows virtually nothing about the job, has no training for the position, and her State Department career consisted of being a glorified press secretary. Nauert has no idea how diplomacy is conducted. She may speak and present well as a result of her experience in the news business, but Fox News is hardly a training grounds for the rough and tumble world of Turtle Bay. America’s finest diplomats at the U.N.—in additional to the career officers who have held that position—were among the most illustrious spokespersons for U. S. foreign policy on the world stage after America’s Secretaries of State. They include among others Adlai Stevenson, Arthur Goldberg, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Madeline Albright and George Herbert Walker Bush all of whom brought diplomatic, academic, and political skill to the job.  Appointing Nauert is an embarrassment.

The most disturbing discussion concerning the making of U.S. foreign policy came in the first interview that Trump’s former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had after almost one year out of office. His commentary based on his first-hand observations of how President Trump addressed foreign policy issues not only affirmed what numerous other sources have indicated but were deeply troubling. For the former chief executive of Exxon to critique the President’s decision-making process as being almost devoid of any information or understanding of both issues and processes was chilling.  It clearly contributed to Tillerson’s willingness to cease his association with this White House. For outsiders as well as foreign leaders, this report confirmed what many had already observed that there is no legitimate foreign policy decision making process in place in this Administration.

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