Welcome to the Foreign Policy "Reassurance Tour"
Unfortunately, Mattis’s comments indicate that the Trump administration is unlikely to prune even the least justified U.S. commitments to allies. It is one thing to cooperate with Japan to limit the power of a rising China. Such a stance is perfectly consistent with a realist foreign policy—even one of realism and restraint. It is quite another matter to put America at risk to defend a pile of uninhabited rocks, especially when it is unclear which country has the stronger legal claim to those rocks. (Indeed, one could make the case that China’s claim to the Senkaku Islands has greater validity from the standpoint of both proximity and history.)
If the Trump administration won’t distance itself from that kind of reckless commitment to an ally, then all the rhetoric about pursuing a more focused and interests-based foreign policy is just that: rhetoric with no meaningful substance. The new administration has failed, and rather spectacularly failed, its initial foreign-policy tests.
Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor to the National Interest, is the author of ten books, the contributing editor of ten books, and the author of more than 650 articles on international affairs.
Image: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during a visit to Seoul, South Korea. Flickr/Secretary of Defense