Some of the president’s public statements about NATO, trade and nuclear weapons were concerning, but largely didn’t result in major shifts in US policy or changing courses of American action.
By David Banks
President Donald Trump’s decisions to withdraw US troops from northern Syria – and then to send them back into action – has raised new concerns around the world about the reliability of US promises.
Since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, I and other foreign policy scholars have worried that Trump’s tendencies toward hyperbole, exaggeration and outright lying could disrupt a relatively stable international community.
For the last several years, I was relieved to find that didn’t happen. Some of the president’s public statements about NATO, trade and nuclear weapons were concerning, but largely didn’t result in major shifts in US policy or changing courses of American action.
However, by announcing that the US military in northern Syria would leave positions they occupied between Turkish and Kurdish forces – two US allies who viewed each other as enemies – and then apparently reversing that decision, Trump has likely caused US allies and rivals to view American commitments in a new, uncertain light.
Other countries have seen how quickly the US can reverse longstanding commitments. They may now adjust their own diplomatic and military strategies to depend less on the US. That, in turn, may reduce the power and influence the US has in the international community, increasing global instability.
In the first several years of the Trump presidency, bureaucratic lack of action in the Pentagon and the State Department meant that statements from the president didn’t actually change what US troops and diplomats did in other countries.
The message other nations took from that was that they couldn’t totally ignore the president’s words, but they did not need to worry about their implications very much. Despite what Trump said, they felt they could continue to depend on the US for assistance, aid and support.
For instance, a Japanese foreign ministry official told the Japan Times newspaper, “The Japanese government shouldn’t react to a tweet by the president each time … If it’s their official position, we need to deal with it, but the president says various things.”
Put another way, Trump’s statements were hurting the reputation of the US, but not damaging the country’s credibility about its commitments.
To many scholars of foreign policy, this might be surprising. The behaviour of a country’s leader is expected to affect that country’s global reputation, which is usually key to international credibility. Developing consistent positions deters would-be challengers of US allies or interests.
That’s why national officials in the US and around the world are typically quite careful with what they say and how they say it.
(David Banks is Professorial Lecturer of International Politics, American University School of International Service)
(This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)