This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
For many of his supporters, Donald Trump's personality reflects strength and power. They assume that given his direct and non-compromising utterances, Trump has the necessary leadership abilities to successfully direct U.S. foreign policy.
So, given this perception of his personality, what kind of foreign policy should we expect him to put forward as the new president? In contrast to the perception of strong leadership skills, his foreign policy statements indicate that, if implemented, his policies will lead to a weakened United States.
A Trump presidency will push the U.S. into a global retreat and limit our pre-eminent historical role in global affairs.
Global leadership should aim towards guiding a nation in becoming and remaining an impactful country in world affairs. In today's era of globalized communication, globalized trade and globalized cultural connections, effective global leadership requires utilizing our national capabilities, values and reputation in order to propel our country forward into the world.
The U.S. became a successful global leader after World War II by creating forward-looking global economic and political relationships. Our purposeful and strong leadership was instrumental in creating innovative and sustainable networks such as the United Nations, the World Bank and NATO, as well as the development of the European Union.
U.S. leadership, for many generations, was instrumental in expanding American power and wealth and in persuading many countries to link their economic, political, social and military relations to the U.S. Based on U.S. power, capitalist and democratic nations have become hallmark of much of the world. We were successful for such a long time by maintaining innovative leadership techniques, collaborating with our allies, penalizing our adversaries and always remaining central to any crucial global issue. Through these means, we became and have remained a superpower nation.
Unfortunately, Trump's vision for U.S. foreign policy will take us in a very different, misguided and dangerous direction. First, he misunderstands the ideological history of American power. We became a great nation because of our compelling national narrative and because of how we learned to use our great power to maintain our central role in world affairs. For many generations, our leaders recognized that our power is based on our engagement with the rest of the world.
Second, Trump's immigration policies are sowing discord and confusion between our country and the rest of the world. Prohibiting immigration based on religion weakens our value system and further underscores Trump's policy of retreat.
Third, Trump criticizes our historical and essential allies and heaps praise on our authoritarian adversaries. Rather than use our national power in the traditional way of remaining close to our allies and keeping safe distance from our adversaries, he seeks to dismantle our positive and mutually beneficial relationship with our allies and cast our lot with our traditional adversaries.
Finally, Trump has threatened to break with our global alliance, our defense partners and global organizations that we helped to build 70 years ago. Instead of working with others who support our national power through multilateralism, Trump will focus only on a few individual countries cutting our self off from our traditional allies.
Trump may feel comfortable behind great walls, but by unhinging American power from global markets, resources and people, our economy, global reputation and superpower status will suffer. Recall the famous phrase: Power abhors a vacuum. China and Russia will vigorously enter into the power vacuum left intentionally by Trump. Chinese President Xi Jinping recently commented that China would aggressively support free trade.
It is clear that China will step into the void left by the U.S. if Trump retreats from the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty. China's trade will fill the vacuum left by the U.S. in East Asia and Latin America. Moreover, in the absence of strong U.S. leadership against Russia's recent aggression, Vladimir Putin will continue to make antagonistic moves against our Eastern European allies. Russia also will become the leading country in determining the fate of Syria and Iran.
Our foreign policy based on retreat will divide our European allies which in turn will weaken that region and further diminish U.S. power. By threatening to pull out of NATO and undermine our ties to the United Nations, other powerful countries will step into this space vacated by the US. Immigration restrictions will further divide our country, alienate our allies and emboldened our enemies.
Commonsense Republicans, Democrats and independents need to come together in order to stop the downward and destabilizing slide of American power soon to be initiated by Trump. Since the end of World War II, U.S. power has been based on an innovative partnership between our national capabilities and our global networks of trade, finance and democratic ideals. We need to ensure that our future will remain positive and bright and attractive to others in order to secure our power in the troubled years ahead.
Howard Lehman is a professor of political science at the University of Utah.