The Trump Administration suffers from a root problem which neither explains nor justifies all the mistakes and policy mis-steps which pervade all the activity in Washington. The President has yet to articulate any clear philosophical, ideological, or conceptual approach to governing. The President has no coherent policy on the House or on the Senate healthcare bills. “Repeal and and Replace” is not a policy. Cutting taxes and a one page plan is not a tax proposal. Fixing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure is not a roadmap.
While this may be disconcerting in domestic policy, the absence of a rational foreign policy is considerably more dangerous. Multiple reports suggest that Trump has handed over U.S. military policy to Secretary Mattis giving him virtual carte blanche to handle the nation’s national security policy. Despite his credentials as a former military general, no president has handed over military issues including troop deployment matters to any Secretary of Defense. In fact when the DOD emerged in 1947 out of the old Department of War as part of the National Security Act, the legislation stipulated that the head of the Department must be a civilian. Congress which waved this stipulation for General Marshall under Harry Truman, just did so again for Mattis. The problem beyond no civilian oversight is that Trump’s policy appears to be whatever Mattis and his military decide, as if the President appears not interested.
In foreign policy, the lack of a vision is equally obvious and has become laughable in the eyes of America’s friends and foes. He is operating by the seat of his pants; impulsive, reactive, and without any forethought. There is no plan, no guidebook, and no strategy. All that is predictable is that all is unpredictable.
An American pilot has just shot down a Syrian jet. Is this part of a strategy? Is it intentional? Was it a mistake? Will it continue? Did someone comprehend what might be the consequences to U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria? How does this affect the U.S. fight against ISIS? From whose base did it fly out of: Qatar, Turkey, or a U. S, carrier? How could this escalation push back or provoke counter attacks against U.S. forces? What is the nature of Iran’s response? The answers to these and numerous other questions cannot be determined because there is no evidence of any policy framework.
One might have assumed that by the time the G20 Summit meets in Hamburg on July 7, the U.S. would have signaled to its allies how they were interpreting the recent events in Europe, from elections to terrorism. Emmanuel Macron has shaken up French politics and the continent is looking to him together with Merkel to provide a new joint picture of leadership. Theresa May and the British Government likely will continue to lick their wounds after her election fiasco and the persistent, growing domestic terrorist threat. Most interesting will be watching the choreography of the first meeting between Putin and Trump.
The Summit as seen today, will be occurring in a total vacuum. There is no U.S. policy design within which to interpret what might be the U.S. response. How important is the economic viability of Europe or Britain to the U.S.? To what extent does the Administration now view with concern Britain’s exit from the EU? How will Trump address America’s failure to participate adequately in the Syrian refugee crisis? What will be the United States’ response if Putin confronts Trump and challenges the West?
The absence of policies indeed also have consequences.