U.S. President Donald Trump struck an unsurprisingly triumphal tone in his first State of the Union address last night, although the speech’s national security passages focused mainly on the threats from North Korea and Iran more than any particular successes.
It’s tempting to say that Trump’s first year in office has been a wash when it comes to foreign policy. Despite the alarm and uncertainty that greeted his election, it has not resulted in the catastrophe many feared. Due to the interventions of his Cabinet and advisers, there has been more continuity than disruption in the day-to-day conduct of U.S. foreign policy than expected. At the same time, Trump’s promises to reshape America’s global role remain aspirational, while his erratic and bellicose style has rattled allies and undermined America’s global standing, making 2017 a year more of lateral drift than of forward progress.
Trump’s campaign rhetoric and his administration’s opening moves upon taking office amounted to a high-stakes gamble. On a wide range of issues, Trump took declarative stances at odds with long-standing American policy and embraced unpredictability as a tactical approach to negotiations. In doing so, he sought to generate uncertainty and fear among America’s interlocutors and thereby create openings for major gains at little cost.