The article, Trump's 'America First' Is the Twilight of American Exceptionalism, by Max Boot, in Foreign Policy, November 22, 2016 compared Trump’s foreign policy with Obama’s and expressed concern over result even though both supported quasi-isolationism and non-interventionism. This column begs for a different opinion based on an analysis of Obama’s and Trump’s personality and background. The world was surprised of Trump’s victory. Trump now holds the key of the moment of surprise as well as the element of surprise. If he can resist the establishment and its old way of doing things, Trump’s foreign policy may be more in sync with President Obama’s (non-interventionism and quasi-isolationism) but in a good way in terms of achieving real beneficial results.
Rationally speaking, the answer to the subject title must be no, comparing unknown in the future to deeds done in the past has to fall in the speculation category. However, if one takes a serious
analysis of President-elect's campaign speeches, one can certainly formulate some predictions. Max Boot, a Russian American writer, consultant, editorialist, lecturer, and military historian, has done just that and published an article; Trump's 'America First' Is the Twilight of American Exceptionalism, in Foreign Policy, November 22, 2016. In his article, Boot, based on Trump's campaign pronouncements, said that "Trump's foreign policy may be more in sync with President Obama’s than either man would care to admit. And not in a good way: Trump shares with Obama a desire to pull back from the world but lacks Obama’s calm, deliberative style and respect for international institutions." Boot, educated in UC Berkeley and Yale, currently a Jeane Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow at the Council for Foreign relations, has been an advocate of American values in foreign policy. (He once described his ideas as "American might to promote American ideals.) Boot thinks Trump’s execution of foreign policy may not be a good way but I disagree. I shall explain my view later.
After reading Boot's article, I have mixed reactions to his arguments. Boot is fairly accurate in recounting Obama's deeds but his effort to predict Trump's foreign policy based on his campaign remarks is commendable but not credible simply because Boot did not derive his conclusions with due consideration of the personality and background of the two gentlemen which are very different. A president’s personality and background shape his perception of the world and influence his decision making process in formulating and executing his foreign policy. Yes, both Obama and Trump want to pull out of Middle East and both do not see America has a mission of global intervention or world policing but their perception of the problems and their thought process of defining optimal solution differ. Hence, in the following we will offer a different analysis not so much as finding similarity between Obama's and Trump's foreign policy (Trump’s foreign policy may not be so predictable as admitted by Boot) but more on the way of seeking solutions by Obama (hindsight) and Trump (probable approach).
Obama was the first black American President elected by an electoral vote of 365:173 (popular vote 69.5m : 60m, 52.9%:45.7%), an impressive victory over John McCain, a veteran war hero. Obama won the election with the 'change' slogan. Yet, in his two terms, Americans by and large were disappointed by his administration. As a great orator and idealist with liberal social ideology, it is understandable that he sees America as a flawed nation, not an exemplar of democracy rather as a nation needing to perfect herself. Hence his apologetic gesture to the world. Boot cited Obama as a Jeffersonian, a term attributed to Walter Russell Mead, to mean the U.S. should perfect her own democracy and not searching monsters in the world to destroy. However, Obama did not fulfill his 'change' mandate simply because he is a product of the establishment based on his education background and his short political career as a democrat. When he assumed the 44th US Presidency, he basically inherited the foreign policy and proceeded gingerly with his philosophy of 'pull back'. He may be a believer in international organizations and international laws, but his actions on foreign policy maintained the 'double talk' or 'double standard' practice that the U.S. had always adopted. He basically was not willing to challenge the establishment, the US Government-intelligence-military complex.
Although both Obama and Trump seem to support quasi-isolationism and non-interventionism, Trump's 'America first' and his American Exceptionalism (if he ever uttered the word) has to be interpreted from Trump's world perception and his unorthodox political background. Trump is a successful self-made wealthy business person with a different kind of ego and self confidence from Obama has. Being an outsider of the political establishment, a billionaire and a competitive winner with a strong personality, we need to understand his view of 'winning' and his definition of 'making America great again' in order to comprehend his foreign policy. In contrast with Obama, Trump has few strings attached to the establishment. His victory against the establishment surprised them but confirmed and endorsed his self-confidence which will lead him to act more independently and much more daring to upset the establishment in conducting foreign policies. Yes, he will pull out from Middle East but more likely to take an unexpected approach to produce quicker result and show a win for America. His definition of 'winning' is not for his personal gain for money (he is rich enough) nor for any imperialistic gain (not a hegemony believer) but more likely a gain for the U.S. Treasury or national budget interpreted simply as a gain for the American people. Perhaps Mead's term, Jacksonian, "not seeking foreign quarrel but will clobber if provoked", is an appropriate description of Trump, but more than that, Trump is likely to abandon the 'double standard' foreign policy practice and adopt a shrewd business negotiation practice to deal with foreign affairs in security and trade.
Boot and most analysts have said that Trump's foreign policy is not predictable because he has been too outspoken making many outlandish statements (build walls, renege debt, reduce emission accord, kill TPP, apply punitive tariffs, renegotiate NAFTA, reduce commitment to NATO…) Yet in diplomatic speeches, he has kept himself vague or non-committal enough and he is far more transparent and honest than many typical American politician with their double talk – do as I say but not do as I do (talk civil liberty and do killings at the same time). The fact that some Syrian rebels said: “Today, we know that [the Americans] are really and practically not backing us, whereas before, we considered them our friend while they were implementing our opponents’ agenda.” Trump's transparency and frank diagnosis of international problems may be a beneficial change to our conduct in foreign policy, we just hope that he and his new cabinet can live up to his claim to always make a good deal for American people, not for the establishment at the expense of the American people. The world was surprised of Trump’s victory. Trump now holds the key of the moment of surprise as well as the element of surprise (as he repeatedly said in his campaign speeches that the US government must not give away the element of surprise). If he can resist the establishment and its old way of doing things, Trump’s foreign policy may be more in sync with President Obama’s (non-interventionism and quasi-isolationism) but in a good way in terms of achieving real beneficial results.