A successful foreign policy cannot be formulated or implemented in a vacuum -- domestically or internationally.
National interests are deemed to be the guiding principle of a nation's policies, and nationalism is a driving force in the world. Individual nations perceive and pursue their interests differently, and there are often differences within nations about what constitutes national interest.
Policies toward one nation or issue may have significant ramifications for relations with other nations, what can be called chain linkage. And they can have impact at home. International relations are not conducted in isolation, even if isolationist policy is involved.
Exit strategies are essential in cases of military intervention but proclaiming "mission accomplished" can be foolhardy.
These maxims provide something of a general guidebook for international relations. We see examples of these factors in the scrambled state of today's international affairs, from the developments in Korea to the conflicting signals on Russia sanctions.
Campaign promises, rational policies, and economic and geopolitical realities inevitably bump up against each other.
The Trump administration, while fanning nationalism, tries to pick and choose among these within an "America First" context. President Trump has emphasized the trade imbalance with China and insisted a "trade war" could be a good thing. He argues China has been allowed to pilfer American jobs and damage the U.S. economy, promising that he would "bring back" manufacturing jobs.
Trump announced a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. Although Trump's action made some U.S. sectors happy, others were unhappy. According to the World Trade Center-Arkansas, 90 percent of Arkansas companies surveyed say the tariffs would negatively affect business, costs or jobs.
Predictably, China responded with targeted tariffs on U.S. products, including wine and pork, and later soybeans, automobiles and chemicals. Arkansas has a major stake in exports. Sales to China of Arkansas soybeans account for 61 percent of the state's soybean exports. Arkansas pork producers emphasize the importance of China for exports. Arkansas rice farmers, number one nationally in production, hope at some point to be allowed to sell large quantities of rice to China, the largest rice consumer.
Many who would feel the impact of tariffs have been part of Trump's political base. And it should be noted that Trump's seemingly strong conviction that trade deficits are bad collides with his signature tax cut, which many experts believe will contribute to higher trade deficits. Moreover, trimming a deficit with one nation or on one product is often meaningless because the shortfall will just pop up elsewhere.
There's also the matter, despite his disdain for multilateral cooperation, of Trump's recent suggestions that maybe, after all, the U.S should be involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership as well as NAFTA. They were part of Trump's regular campaign hit list.
There are a number of flashpoints and entanglements. One of the most contentious is Syria, where Trump recently ordered airstrikes only a few days after speaking of the need to speed withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, a position at odds with advisers concerned that doing so would leave matters in the hands of Iran, Russia and their proxies. Iran clearly wants to assume a dominant role in the region. Trump administration views of Iran are strongly influenced by the odd couple of Israel and Saudi Arabia, with Trump appearing to develop a cozy relationship with the Saudis.
Will there be support at home for maintaining a military role in Syria, as well as continuing involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq? And there are U.S. forces in such scattered locales as Niger in West Africa, a nation unfamiliar to most Americans, or even the U.S Congress, which plays little role in dispatching American forces.
And there is the dubious and dangerous Trump administration emphasis on arms sales, designed to bolster the U.S. arms industry and as a centerpiece of foreign policy. Along with this venture, there is planning for an "Arab force," which would support U.S. interests in the Middle East/Gulf region, but is a concept laden with complexities and cross-purposes.
Looming over all this is Korea with its set of contradictory actions and assertions. Here we are reminded that terminology can be tricky. We see this not just in the "fire and fury" rhetoric, but in differing interpretations of "denuclearization." To North Korea it has meant mutual action to get rid of nuclear weapons, including requiring the U.S. to remove its nuclear umbrella over South Korea and Japan. Perhaps there is an opportunity to find common ground with North Korea, which would certainly bring some credit to President Trump. But are such expectations realistic? Hawkish Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., expressed skepticism, saying North Korea's announcement is easily reversible.
Just mentioning the Korean wild card and the Syrian tinder box is indicative of the turmoil in international relations. It also should make clear that the U.S. cannot go it alone.
The late, tepid stages of the Cold War were marked by a relatively stable balance of power. Now, with Putin and Xi as ambitious strong men, there is a new, troubling dimension to world affairs.
The reality is that we are in a globalized world with all its interconnections -- security, commerce, communication, politics and diplomacy. This must be understood in constructing successful approaches to the world.
Commentary on 04/25/2018
Print Headline: Foreign policy must recognize connections