Opinion: Donald Trump and the ‘weaving car’ theory of foreign policy

Well, that was quite a week to take off: The state said I-85 would re-open in about two months, Jon Ossoff revealed almost all of his financial support comes from well beyond the district he hopes to represent in Congress, Senate Republicans pulled a Harry Reid and killed the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, and Democrats learned Syria still has chemical weapons after all.

Let’s start with the last of those. Those who did not buy into the Obama administration’s deep self-regard had long been skeptical of the deal brokered with Russia to remove Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile. This deal came about back when Democrats were the ones who thought Russia was a potential ally, or at least a nation with which we might find common cause when dealing with international problems. Obama administration figures continued to tout the deal as a success even as the Assad regime continued to weaponize chemicals such as chlorine against the Syrian people. (The technicality cited by defenders of one of those administration figures, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice — that she was talking only about Syria’s “known” stockpile — only underscores just how incomplete and ineffective the Russian-led effort was bound to be.)

The USS Porter launches a tomahawk land attack missile toward a Syrian air base, April 7. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams / U.S. Navy via AP)

So it should hardly have come as a surprise last week when reports emerged that the Syrian government had once again bombed civilians with some kind of poisonous gas. Nor should it have been surprising that Russia, as it has time and again, echoed the regime’s denial of using chemical weapons.

What did surprise was the reaction from President Trump.

Four years ago, Trump publicly and repeatedly cautioned President Obama against striking the Assad regime for crossing Obama’s “red line” by using chemical weapons. Now in the White House himself, Trump apparently was so moved by images of suffering Syrian children that he ordered a cruise-missile strike against the regime-controlled air field from which the chemical attacks were said to have been launched.

And, as we did four years ago when Obama proposed retaliatory action against Syria, Americans are left wondering whether Trump’s action signals any kind of broader commitment to intervention in Syria or a relatively tame, one-time, symbolic act. In raising that question now, a number of commentators are also asking what, exactly, are the guiding principles behind the Trump foreign policy.

But the response to Assad’s chemical-weapons use fits neatly with a concept of Trump’s foreign policy that I’ve held for a while now, and which I’ll try to explain. I call it the “weaving car” approach to foreign policy.

We’ve all been on the highway and come upon a motorist who seems incapable of maintaining his lane. We wonder: Is he drunk? Distracted? Suffering a medical emergency? Just plain bad at driving? But ultimately most of us probably decide not to get close enough to answer the question; instead we give the weaving car a wide berth and steer clear of it. For the one thing that’s clear is the car poses a danger in its failure to follow the rules of the road and to behave predictably.

For decades now, the goal of our foreign policy has been to ensure as much predictability as possible. We try to signal our own intentions and to encourage the same from allies and foes alike. (I’m speaking here of strategy, not tactics.) Order has been the goal. That includes the order established by military alliances such as NATO to deter bad actors, as well as the order built by trade agreements to foster cooperation even with countries such as China that aren’t considered our allies. Perfect predictability was of course never feasible, but the theory was that, by eliminating as much happenstance as possible, we were better placed to deal with those unforeseen problems that did crop up.

Those notions of order are obviously rejected by terrorists, who value unpredictability because it helps level the battlefield for them against the world’s leading powers. But lately, the wisdom of seeking order and predictability through international institutions, and pursuing one’s national interests within those frameworks, has been questioned as well by populists in the West. That applies to Brexit, obviously, but also much of what Trump had to say about foreign policy as a candidate. We might describe the main unifying theme for his thoughts on foreign policy as: America first, no matter how many apple carts must be upset — among friends or foes.

The problem is that, while order was itself seen as a national interest of the world’s only superpower, this upsetting of order lacks a sufficiently clear goal. Despite its apparently appealing simplicity, “America first” is not an organizing principle. Actions that seem to put “America first” today may be harmful to our national interest in the long run. Threatening to walk away from NATO because some countries haven’t been spending sufficiently on defense is one example. There may also be situations where yielding on a relatively small matter of national interest brings us allies, or helps avoid conflicts, on more important matters. The adage that countries don’t go to war with their trading partners comes to mind.

In the short run, an erratic America may make some bad actors think twice about coming too close to us. In the long and even medium term, however, this approach is more likely to make our allies wary of us and our enemies tempted to try to use our whimsy to their advantage. Neither is desirable.

Reader Comments 0

258 comments
breckenridge
breckenridge

Trump earned an atta boy yesterday.  He's figured out that Steve Bannon is a complete zero, a lunatard of epic proportions, and Bannon is on the way out.


America doesn't care where Bannon goes as long as he goes away.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Last August, a handwritten ledger surfaced in Ukraine with dollar amounts and dates next to the name of Paul Manafort, who was then Donald Trump's campaign chairman.


Ukrainian investigators called it evidence of off-the-books payments from a pro-Russian political party — and part of a larger pattern of corruption under the country's former president.


http://finance.yahoo.com/news/records-match-ukraine-ledger-payments-ex-trump-aide-090335803--politics.html


Why would Trumps campaign managers name be on a ledger in Ukraine ???? The investigation continues.

bu22
bu22

@Hedley_Lammar Duh, because he was a paid political consultant for that group.  Its common knowledge.

Resist Trump
Resist Trump

 Raised by grandparents who could afford to live in Hawaii. Nuff said. 

So everyone who lives in Hawaii is wealthy?  

The things one learns on this blog. Boggle the mind it do!!!

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Resist Trump

Then please do open the melon further by directing your attention to my post below with a link to an article that explains how Obama was a Russian stooge.

Rumor has it he was drum played so long and so loud by Putin that he has the concussion sickness.

Next thing you know he'll have the coke bottle lense glasses, he can borrow from Hillary.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

China agrees to help with getting North Korea under control. They turned away a N.K. coal shipment at their border. Guess the "weaving car theory" got a key result.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

Today the LibProgs in their continuing lunacy will tell us how losing the election in Kansas means they are on the rise and the nation is against Trump.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

Yep, read Galloway for the Repubs should be worried for winning in Kansas.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@JohnnyReb Well. When you barely win a race you won by 30 points just months ago something changed wouldn't you say ?

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

hitler used gas on innocent civilians, assad uses gas on innocent civilians.


The United States Armed Forces wiped hitler off the face of the Earth.


Here's looking at you bashar.

Resist Trump
Resist Trump

Are you a paid sean spicer shill, IReportYouWhine?

Starik
Starik

@Resist Trump The Russians did more than their share against Hitler.  Don't you know any history?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Did you learn anything today Doom ?


If not there's always tomorrow. 



Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

If Trump had been born into the lower middle class ala Obama he might, I stress might, be a used car salesman today.


But that is about as far as he would have made it. 

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@Hedley_Lammar


Obama, who attended a private prep high school in Hawaii and who attended prestigious colleges, was "lower middle class"? Thass funny. 


If Trump had... If, if, if, and if....

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Doom a classical liberal @Hedley_Lammar Yes


Born to a single mother family. And was a mixed race child. Big strikes against him compared to Trump who had every door opened wide for him.


BTW he went to private school on scholarship. Not because they could afford it. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Doom a classical liberal @Hedley_Lammar Raised by grandparents who could afford to live in Hawaii.


Lots of poor people in Hawaii. I see you have never been there.


Scholarship? Well, of course. He was a minority black kid. 


Who happened to be very very bright. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

The biggest danger on the planet is people have forgotten WWII


When fascist and far right nationalist regimes ruled Europe. An incredible amount of death and destruction followed.


Those that knew those lessons are dying off. 

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Hedley_Lammar

Heds, there are not many "far right" people in our country.

You however like to think anyone who is not a RINO is far right.

Trump likely received votes from far right people, but the majority who made him president are not far right.

Instead, they are common folks with common sense.

Claims of them wanting to return to yesterday only makes those who write such tripe look foolish and ignorant.

If your side keeps up with the theme that Trump is not qualified, colluded with Russia, has no plan, et al, you won't be able to win a dog catcher race.

Come to think of it, you can't now.

Anticipating your reply, you will throw out how you won seats in the last election.

A stopped clock is correct twice a day.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@JohnnyReb @Hedley_Lammar  Instead, they are common folks with common sense.


Disagree. They were duped by a gifted con man. Nothing more.


He isnt qualified. Its plain to see after 80 days.

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@Hedley_Lammar @bu22 @JohnnyReb


HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!


You obviously haven't kept up with what's going on at many of our nations college campuses. Free speech by cons is most certainly attacked. Just ask Charles Murray or any other conservative speaker whose event gets attacked. More examples of this then we can shake a stick at. LOL!

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@Hedley_Lammar @Doom a classical liberal @bu22 @JohnnyReb


"But most who have been denied the right to speak were basically KKK types."


Well, if you're gonna lie might as well make it a whopper. Murray is an academic at Harvard. 


And how do you explain Milo Yannipoulous- an openly gay conservative speaker who was run out of a Cali campus? You can't. LOL!


So Milo is a "KKK" type. LOLOLOLOLOLOL!

bu22
bu22

@JohnnyReb @Hedley_Lammar Of course, the totalitarians run the Democratic party.  They want to limit free speech, take guns, deny Republicans the right of peaceful assembly, deny public freedom of faith and use the power of government (IRS, AGs) to attack those with whom they disagree.  Hillary even hired people to incite violence at Trump rallies.  Her supporters firebombed Republican HQs in North Carolina and broke windows in Indiana.  And vandalized churches, trying to falsely blame it on Trump supporters.  The brownshirts were all Donkeys.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

establish their own city, print their own money, sell oil, etc.?


Jesus Christ ISIS does NOT print their own money. 


Its 20,000 or so radicals running around in the dessert. This is what keeps you nuts up at night wetting the bed ? They are no threat to us whatsoever. 


North Korea is a FAR FAR bigger problem.  

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@JohnnyReb @Hedley_Lammar


Hedley's funniest bed wetting moment of today was when he suggested religious zealots in the U.S. were every bit as bad as religious zealots in Muslim countries. But of course if that were true then Westboro Baptist would be bombing Muslim places of worship every day. Doesn't happen, of course. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Doom a classical liberal @JohnnyReb @Hedley_Lammar Hedley's funniest bed wetting moment of today was when he suggested religious zealots in the U.S. were every bit as bad as religious zealots in Muslim countries.


Of course I never said that. But they do have a lot in common. Religious fanatics etc. And both are itching for a Battle of the Civilizations type fight. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Doom a classical liberal @Hedley_Lammar Hedley. Isis can use U.S. dollars or any other international currency just as anyone else can. 


Sure


But you cant build a state on cash. Ask Hamilton. He knew US debt would establish us for good. Credit man credit. 


Got another quarter ?

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@Hedley_Lammar @Doom a classical liberal


Another history fail, Hedley. 


The Roman empire and many other empires did not issue debt in the form of bonds and yet they became vast and powerful empires. 


And in modern times Argentina defaulted and only recently entered world markets again after 15 years in default. Yet it is still a nation.


it would appear that your knowledge of current history is as appalling as your knowledge of ancient history. 

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@Hedley_Lammar @Doom a classical liberal


LOL! I went next door to return a reciprocating saw to the business owner over there. 


I see that your bogus argument routine continues. 


Allow me to educate you, Hedley. The U.S. used debt in its early years mainly to finance wars. But its not as if the issuance of debt was something that made America great. It didn't. 


Any scholar of America's history understands that in the period from 1776 to the early 1900s that the U.S. rose to become the world's greatest economic power not because of the federal govt, but because of an absence of federal interference and the fed's small share of national income. In most non war years the federal govt consumed only 3-5% of national income, sir. As recently as 1928 the feds only consumed 3% of GDP. 


Class is in session. And you just got schooled again. 

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@Hedley_Lammar @Doom a classical liberal


Hamilton created the banking system sir and hence a way to finance war with debt issues. But that's quite a leap to imply he or any of the founding fathers encouraged normal non war time profligate spending the likes of which we see today. If he did then the U.S. wouldn't have annually consumed only 3-5% of GDP in most non war years. Logic, hedley. Logic!