It is also the case that Trump’s episodic attention to foreign affairs can result in the outsourcing of specific issues. The administration has struck a stance at variance with its otherwise emollient approach to authoritarian states in calling for what amounts to regime change in Venezuela. It has been widely reported that the administration has deputed responsibility for its policy toward that country to Senator Marco Rubio, who has long been associated with the neoconservative camp, not to mention Elliott Abrams, the champion of the Nicaraguan Contras during the Reagan administration whom Pompeo recently appointed special envoy to Venezuela. After protests took place in Venezuela, Vice President Mike Pence declared on Twitter in both Spanish and English: “We are with you. We stand with you, and we will stay with you until Democracy is restored and you reclaim your birthright of Libertad.” The idea is to execute regime change against what Bolton in a November speech called a “troika of tyranny”—first, Venezuela, then Cuba, and, finally, Nicaragua.
If Trump has performed erratically, it is also the case that his critics have often failed to offer much new thinking. At times their writings seem reminiscent of the Newspeak term “crimestop” in George Orwell’s 1984: “Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct at the threshold of any dangerous thought.” In assessing Trump, for example, Antony J. Blinken and Robert Kagan in the Washington Post offered a predictable peroration:
If the United States abdicates its leading role in shaping international rules and institutions—and mobilizing others to defend them—then one of two things will happen: Some other power or powers will step in and move the world in ways that advance their interests and values, not ours. Or, more likely, the world will descend into chaos and conflict, and the jungle will overtake us, as it did in the 1930s.
But as Ali Wyne observes in this issue,
despite the vagaries in its foreign policy, the United States is the world’s lone superpower; in the 1930s, by contrast, despite commanding the world’s largest economy, Washington’s military and diplomatic influence beyond its border lagged far behind its industrial heft.
As Trump navigates what are likely to be increasingly turbulent foreign policy waters in the next two years, he will be judged by how he deploys that influence.
Jacob Heilbrunn is editor of the National Interest.