Beware Transactional Foreign Policy

The world has witnessed the folly and pitfalls of having a mere transactional figure in the Oval Office.   Donald Trump will praise and elevate a person one day only to denounce and defame that same person only months later.  Praise Trump and you will be greeted with superlatives.  Speak candidly about Trump and the ridicule will fall like ash from a volcano.

It is most unseemly, and dysfunctional, to have such a character flaw show time and again when dealing with, for example, just a revolving door for a White House Chief of Staff.  But it is down-right dangerous to have it so obvious when dealing with the international order.  Transactional methods should never be applied to foreign policy making.  At the end of the day American interests must always trump personalities.

This week the world heard another message from North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.  Once again, there was a play for redefining what denuclearizing means, and what a process would look like for a calming of relations.  It should trouble all who ponder the larger issues at hand that Trump is all giddy and randy by celebrating the North’s voluntary freeze on missile and nuclear testing.  The tactics and trade-craft of how North Korea plays this game has been a decades-long education on what we should never fall for.

But when there are no solid defined foundations from an American administration about nuclear proliferation, and instead a policy based on who has said the last nice thing about Trump, means we are in very problematic place.

Recall that constraining Iran’s nuclear capability, rather than eliminating it, was what Trump beefed about concerning the nuclear deal.  Trump, to the dismay of foreign policy analysts worldwide, abandoned the deal last year.   He stated the Iran deal was not a permanent solution.  He argued that the world was safer reimposing sanctions rather than sticking with an accord that would allow Iran to resume enriching nuclear material, but not build weapons, in 2030.

But hold on, folks.  This is where is gets even more bizarre.

Today it is estimated that North Korea has 20 to 60 such weapons.  Iran, let us be clear about this, does not have any.  Trump is now in a quandary whether it is better to constrain the growth of missiles in North Korea, or stick with the position he blathered about as a candidate, and during the early phase of his term in office.

What we are witnessing is what happens when there is no informed process by which a president gathers information, establishes basic concepts, and creates a broad policy design.  The outcomes are bad for the United States and international order.

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