Less than two weeks before the 2020 presidential election, with foreign policy a focal point of the final Trump/Biden debate Thursday, the commander-in-chief is set to highlight long-held promises and accomplishments during his first term.
“Trump’s list of promises kept on foreign policy is long and robust. He has made incredible progress securing the border and dealing with the evils of human smuggling and trafficking. He has been the first president in our lifetimes to stand up to China and its malign influence,” James Carafano, vice president of national security and foreign policy at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News. “He has made NATO stronger – a sentiment echoed by NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg – and improved burden-sharing across alliances. He has been incredibly consistent and done what he said he would do. America is better for it.”
Trump especially has touted the territorial triumph over ISIS, which once controlled large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria, giving a more free hand to military leaders to minimize the group in its “caliphate” capitals of Raqqa and Mosul.
While pockets of insurgency in the Middle East remain, and ISIS continues to launch deadly attacks, its ability to seize and hold significant parcels of territory has mostly dissipated. And, after a more than five-year hunt for its shadowy leader Abu al-Baghdadi, U.S. forces cornered him in Syria last October and he killed himself.
Prior to assuming office, Trump swore to pull the U.S out of the “worst deal ever” – the Obama administration’s Iran deal – and sustain a campaign of “maximum pressure.” He upped the ante this year by ordering the assassination of the country’s top commander and spy chief, Qassem Soleimani, in January.
“He has kept his promise to withdraw the U.S. from the terrible Iran nuclear deal and replaced it with a maximum pressure campaign that has brought the mullahs to their knees and severely limited their ability to fund terror in the region,” Carafano added. “And he is the first president in decades to not start any new wars, not just in the Middle East, but anywhere in the world.”
Moreover, Trump controversially sought to thaw decades of frozen diplomatic talks concerning Israel and the Palestinians by moving the U.S. embassy in 2018 from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Years on, the president and his team have further cemented their Israel policy by urging other Muslim-majority nations to “normalize ties.”
Last month, Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed the landmark Abraham Accord, and Bahrain also shored up its Israel relations.
“President Trump’s biggest feat in foreign policy has been reshaping and reimagining the path to peace in the Middle East. The Abraham Accords will bring new opportunity for economic, security, and technology collaboration between Israel and its Arab neighbors,” said counterterrorism expert and editor-in-chief of the Foreign Desk, Lisa Daftari. “When it comes to bringing peace to the Middle East, for decades, previous administrations and experts alike have been stuck in a narrative that precluded any future without peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This peace accord did away with that myth and will have significant outcomes for the region as a whole.”
Harley Lippin, CEO of tech firm Genesis10 and one of the early orchestrators of the Abraham Accord, surmised the stringent Iran approach is working.
“Iran kept provoking the U.S. by hijacking oil tankers, shooting down a drone, and then attacking the Saudi Arabia Aramco facilities,” he said. “Trump only reacted militarily after the American Embassy was attacked in Iran.”
Trump additionally followed through on rhetoric to edge the U.S. from the “forever war” of Afghanistan, shrinking the troop footprint and insisting that all American servicemembers be brought home in a matter of months.
Much of Trump’s “America First” policy also hinged on bringing U.S. citizens improperly held abroad back home. To date, more than 50 hostages in over 22 countries have returned.
Just last week, Iran-supported Houthi rebels in war-ravaged Yemen freed two Americans, in what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed as part of the administration’s commitment to “bringing every American held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad back home.”
In China, the White House pushed back against alleged human rights abuses against the Uighur community, denounced intellectual property theft, and bolstered ties with Taiwan.
During his 2016 campaign, Trump professed to probe and pull back on financial commitments to international bodies not aligned with U.S. interests.
Trump doubled-down by withdrawing the United States from a bevy of United Nations agencies and institutions, such as the World Health Organization and the Human Rights Council.
“Trump has also made securing the border a priority and has followed through on his promises to improve the illegal immigration picture, all while coordinating closely with Mexico and other Central American nations. Relations between the U.S. and Mexico, Central America and Brazil, are all far better than under the Obama administration,” Carafano conjectured.
“Trump’s diplomatic achievements and his investment in rebuilding the U.S. military will have lasting implications,” Carafano said.
And finally – in his words – Trump “rebuilt a military that was largely depleted after the sequestration policy of the Obama administration and that’s a large part of why allies trust us more than under Obama.”
But with the 2020 race predicted to be close and Trump trailing Biden, the president and his supporters are seeking last-minute victories to show dedication not only to America First but to global leadership.
Notably, the Trump team is working to appease anxieties over potential nuclear fallout with Russia. In August 2019, Trump discarded the Soviet-signed Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, Treaty, citing years of blatant violations from Moscow. Some saluted it as a foreign policy win, and others criticized that there was nothing in-motion to replace it.
However, Washington in recent days also progressed significantly in halting nuclear warheads for at least a year and prolonged the 2010 “New START” treaty to ensure arms control remains in place beyond its Feb. 5 expiration. After it rejected Moscow’s terms Friday, Russian President Putin’s delegation agreed this week that both sides should inhibit building their stockpiles.
But just as the White House is shedding light on its foreign wins, the Democrats are highlighting what they call failures and dangerous consequences of “America First.”
A searing 80-page report released Wednesday by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that accused Trump of diplomatic abuses to further his own agenda.
“The clearest example of President Trump’s use of U.S. foreign policy for his own gain was his withholding of U.S. security assistance to Ukraine unless the country launched an investigation into former Vice President Biden,” reads the report entitled “The Cost of Trump’s Foreign Policy: Damage and Consequences for the U.S. and Global Security.”
It further indicates that a Biden victory would bring with it an administration focused on rebuilding relationships with fractured allies, push for better human rights both domestically and internationally, as well as invest in and support the State Department and diplomatic missions.
According to Rich Higgins, former director for strategic planning at the National Security Council, the Trump first-term file is especially thick.
“President Trump has successfully asserted a more realist type of foreign policy,” Higgins added. “There have been no new wars, ISIS has been greatly reduced and their territory eliminated, and then there is moving the Embassy to Jerusalem, new terms in our relations with Islamic countries, and we have begun to address China’s abuses of international norms regarding intellectual property and currency manipulation. But still, I would like to see more attention spent in our own hemisphere.”