Foreign policy experts rebuke Trump administration for policies that emboldened rivals, alienated allies

WASHINGTON — A group of academic experts in international relations view President Trump’s handling of foreign policy “largely as a failure” and have identified specific examples of his botched global engagements while calling for new leadership just weeks before Election Day.

The statement, provided to Yahoo News, is signed by nearly 50 foreign policy scholars from a range of schools across the country, including Harvard, Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, the Fletcher School at Tufts University and others, though the signatories participated in a personal capacity. Notable signatories include Robert Jervis, the former president of the American Political Science Association and professor of international politics at Columbia University; Brett Ashley Leeds, the former president of the International Studies Association and department chair of political science at Rice University; and James Goldgeier, the former dean of the School of International Service at American University, where he still serves as a professor of international relations.

On the top of the list of concerns, the scholars write that the “U.S. trade war with China” has only served to increase tariffs, “badly hurt U.S. farmers” and hinder access to protective health equipment at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

China was one of the question areas for Wednesday evening’s vice presidential debate between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence. Harris said the White House had “lost” the trade war, while Pence accused Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden of going too easy on Beijing.

The letter’s authors also accuse Trump, in the administration’s breaking with the World Health Organization and “failing to provide any global leadership,” of mishandling the global pandemic — consistent with “several other countries with authoritarian style leaders.”

In relation to other major U.S. adversaries, the scholars believe Trump has failed to check the aggression of both North Korea and Iran, despite using vastly different strategies directed at each — fawning letters and summits with North Korean officials versus repressive sanctions and withdrawal from the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.

“North Korea has continued its nuclear weapons program,” the scholars write. “Iran now attacks the United States in Iraq with greater frequency and has a more robust nuclear weapons program.” In Venezuela, the scholars write, people are “even more desperate” as the Trump administration’s attempts to bolster opposition to Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro have fallen flat.

Additionally, they allege, Trump’s policies at home — including separating immigrant children from their families, failing to condemn white supremacy and acts of racial violence, and using the Department of Homeland Security as a “hyper-partisan weapon” against immigrants — have diminished the U.S. as a humanitarian leader on the global stage, while siphoning off domestic resources that might be necessary “should a foreign adversary seek to do harm to the United States and its citizens.”

Not all of Trump’s policies were failures, they note, giving as examples negotiating the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico and bartering peace agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. But they note that the impact has been “greatly exaggerated” and used to distract from a failure to solve bigger problems, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan wave from a balcony at the White House
From left, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the White House during a signing ceremony for the Abraham Accords on Sept. 15. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“President Donald J. Trump’s foreign policy has already caused major harm,” they write. “The United States can rebuild in positive ways, but a second Trump term would do even deeper damage to U.S. institutions, diplomacy, leadership, and international norms.”

Jeremy Pressman, an associate professor of political science and director of Middle East studies at the University of Connecticut, coordinated the letter of independent scholars. Pressman, speaking in his personal capacity, told Yahoo News he believed it was important to speak out amid a fast-moving news cycle, where important issues can get buried.

“This statement was an opportunity to remind ourselves of a wide array of ongoing problems and suffering in the realm of US foreign policy,” Pressman wrote in an email to Yahoo News. “The aim was not to try to come up with the solutions here. But the statement starts to flesh out the agenda of what needs to be addressed as soon as possible.”


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