What to Expect From Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy

Although Trump’s foreign policy vision is rather vague, he has some consistent positions that have been unwavering throughout the campaign. And those positions would translate to a very different US foreign policy, believes Valdai Club expert William Wohlforth, Dean of the Faculty of Public Administration at Dartmouth College.

What lies ahead for the United States now that Donald Trump is elected president? Are we to expect a new political era?

It is very exciting. We get to do a grand experiment in governance, namely bringing in somebody who is a complete outsider with views that are radically in variance with those of the US establishment. So, for a political scientist, setting aside one’s own normative preferences, this is a very exciting and interesting time.

Looking back, why do you think the forecasts that Clinton was to win and Trump, as someone from outside the establishment, was poised to lose, turned out to be so wrong?

It is absolutely fascinating that the big data, numbers-driven, poll-based analyses were fundamentally off. One must point out that some of the more careful pollsters did show a probability of Clinton victory at about 65%. Their prediction turned out to be wrong, too, but if you look at the most sophisticated polling at fivethirtyeight.com, the website run by Nate Silver, in hindsight that looks to have been the most responsible, because they were careful to recognize that uncertainty that we faced today in polling. It turned out that we simply do not have as good an assessment of what people do on the election day as we thought.

It is believed that one of the problems with those polls is that people were reluctant to say that they were going to vote for Trump, because of the media campaign to demonize him and antagonize his supporters. Do you agree with this opinion?

No, I don’t. It is wrong to say that the media or the establishment were seeking to make a Trump victory less likely. The simple reason is that the very same establishment, especially the media, really was crucial to Trump’s success, because they paid so much attention to him. And even the way he won the primary was that the media gave him massive free time on television, which is what made him victorious over his sixteen opponents.

And so, it is very hard to say that that same media which in some sense helped Trump win by paying so much attention to him was at the same time biased against him. Something I think is very important: if data and polls and numbers are not a good predictor, then people’s own experiences and practices are going to influence their forecasts. And here, I think, you have a good point in that too many in American political establishment don’t interact with, don’t talk to, don’t spend time with that part of America that supports Trump and so they just had a hard time understanding how deep this support was.

Trump’s disconnect with the Republican establishment is said to be one of his biggest challenges as the new president. Do you think he well be able to bridge this gap and find a common ground with the people who rejected him so vehemently during the campaign?

It depends on political skills that Trump may possess, but we did not really see those political skills in the campaign. We cannot rule out that he has the skills that are needed now to heal the divisions within his own party and to persuade those who are critical of him to come on board, that he has the political skills to use the momentum that he has gained having awakened this electorate, to use that to weld together a stronger Republican Party that is, once again, a united political force. That would require very substantial skills of statesmanship. I do not see that much evidence that he possesses those skills, but he might.

If he cannot bring the Republican Party together, then it makes it much more difficult for him to lead in the way that I think he would like to lead. So, he has a strong incentive to try to do this, but, again, he has got a lot of work to do. I don’t know the man personally – maybe in a closed-door backroom negotiating setting he can be very persuasive – and if that is the case he may have a chance.

There is a sphere where we cannot say anything about Trump’s skills and this is foreign policy. What kind of foreign policy do you expect from him?

That is a very important point. His own views are not that detailed and his own positions have tended to shift. His own ideology is still difficult fully to pin down and define, he does not have a united or a coherent political movement in the Republican Party. For all of these reasons it is harder than usual to predict what his foreign policy will be like. Normally, when a president is elected, they have a long track record, a fairly coherent ideology, a political establishment they are part of and, using all of those indicators you can forecast what they are likely to do. None of that is the case with Trump.

However, he has some consistent positions that have been more or less unwavering throughout this long campaign. And those positions would translate to a very different US foreign policy.

They include a belief that America’s allies are free-riders who exploit the United States by relying on its security provision and not supporting their own defence efforts. He has consistently argued that we have to be tougher on our own allies. He has consistently argued that he can make deals with key foreign powers, especially Russia. He has consistently argued that he fully rejects the Iran nuclear deal. He has consistently argued that we need to take a more restrictive approach to immigration. He has consistently argued that he will take a much tougher, much less free-trade attitude toward these various trade agreements that the United Stated has negotiated.

He has never wavered from any of these positions. All of those were rather consistent throughout the campaign and I think they suggest at least where he will initially try to go with his foreign policy.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.