According to Michael Anton, one of President Donald Trump’s top foreign policy aides, the chief characteristic of Trump’s foreign policy is unpredictability.
On the surface, unpredictability is a great advantage.
Keeping US enemies guessing, at least to some degree, about how the US will respond to hostile acts expands Washington’s maneuver room.
But one of the consequences of Trump’s desire not to be locked into one pattern of behavior is that it is unclear how he thinks about the world, and the many threats facing the US and its allies. As a result, it is difficult to know whether he can be trusted to take the actions necessary to protect American interests and to stand by America’s allies.
Take for instance the administration’s actions this week in relation to the nuclear deal with Iran. On the one hand, on Tuesday the State Department notified Congress that Iran is in compliance with its obligations under the nuclear deal.
On the other hand, on Wednesday Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stood before the cameras and read Iran the riot act. Tillerson set out in detail all of the ways that Iran threatens the US and its allies and many of the reasons that the nuclear deal is a disaster.
He announced that the Trump administration was revisiting US policy on Iran and pledged that Trump will not leave the Iranian threat to his successors.
It is almost impossible to square this circle.
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