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The Limits of Trump's Transactional Foreign Policy

The Limits of Trump's Transactional Foreign Policy

Unlike international business, foreign policy and national security involve issues of war and peace, and by extension, of life and death.

In that context, proposing that the United States demand that China readjust its currency policy in exchange for continuing American commitment to the One-China policy or that the problem with the nuclear accord with Iran has to do with the “bad deal” that was made, overlooks the political realities in East Asia and the Middle East that are grounded in deep-rooted historical factors that cannot be resolved in one set of negotiations.

What is seen initially as progress in area A could lead to losses in area B, as each move has the power to create a chain reaction that requires the president to master the art of diplomacy. In fact, that was one of the reason that Kissinger’s linkage policies didn’t always achieve their goal, especially since the Soviets and the Chinese failed on many occasions to control their allies in the third world.

Trump’s election to office was to a large extent a reflection of the growing power of nationalism and the politics of identity in the West and in other parts of the world. What nationalist leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Erdogan, Narendra Modi, or Japan’s Shinzo Abe, not to mention the heads of the right-wing parties in Europe, have in common is a clear sense of history and cultural identity that very much propels their foreign policy decisions. Negotiations are nothing more than means to achieve their nationalist goals; deals aren’t ends in themselves.

Ironically, the notion that any conflict can be resolved if only we can get everyone around the negotiating table and make a deal is very much part of the American national character and values that reflect a sense of optimism about the future.

President Bush embraced these beliefs in the form of the Freedom Agenda, while President Barack Obama set to apply these principles through a policy of coexistence with nations that don’t share our values. President Trump’s confidence in his ability to make deals with those nations sounds very pragmatic but could prove to be as utopian as his predecessors’ policies.

Leon Hadar is a senior analyst with Wikistrat, a geo-strategic consulting firm, and author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

Image: Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland/Gage Skidmore