Where’s the Strategy?

Many Trump supporters voted for Donald because they believed he was a successful businessman — rather than a reality TV star. These Trump adherents thought he would bring business acumen to the White House. Trump backers believed Donald had a strategic vision to “make America great again.” Turns out they were mistaken.

There are several attributes of a successful businessman.  One of these is Vision: the ability to see the big picture and to propose a plan to focus the business and achieve its long-term goals.  A successful President also needs vision.

Trump holds up an image, “make America great again,” but doesn’t have a coherent vision of what it will take to accomplish this (noble) objective.  Trump doesn’t have a reasoned domestic or a foreign policy.  There is no strategy; instead Trump presents a random set of assertions — “China is taking all our jobs!” — or tactics — “build the wall!”

The absence of strategy has dire consequences for America’s domestic and foreign policy.  So far, Trump has presented four domestic policy initiatives.  He promised to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” but in reality, he supported repealing Obamacare and designing a replacement later.

Trump promised to create good-paying jobs by a combination of tax cuts and trade policy.  He passed the tax cuts but there’s no evidence they have generated better paying jobs.  So far his tough talk on trade has not produced results.

Trump also promised to create good-paying jobs by a far-reaching $1.5 Trillion plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure.  It hasn’t gotten off the ground.  Fifteen months of the Trump presidency have established that Trump doesn’t have a job-creation or economic strategy beyond helping the rich get richer.

Finally, Trump promised to “protect” America — and coincidentally create jobs — by building a multi-billion dollar wall along the southern border.  Once again, nothing has come of this.

So far, Trump’s domestic policy failures haven’t hurt the country.  Trump inherited a strong economy and it seems to be growing in spite of him.  Foreign policy is a different matter; Trump’s lack of vision endangers us.

Trump doesn’t have a big picture vision of America operating in a world where there are several strong nations and our relationship to them changes depending upon context.  Consider China.  We’re in a “trade war” with China.  Nonetheless we need their help dealing with North Korea.  We have a multifaceted relationship with China.

Because he doesn’t have a realistic vision of world politics, when forced to make a foreign-policy decision, Trump relies upon his instincts.  And his instincts are isolationist.  His slogan, “America first,” means, “America alone.”

We can see this in his handling of global climate change and the Paris climate agreement.  Trump wants the US to withdraw from this treaty in November 2020, “unless we can re-enter on terms the are more favorable for our country.”  (Trump has assigned a delegation to renegotiate terms but so far there has been no progress.)  If the US withdraws, we will be alone in opposition to this deal.

Trump’s position on most foreign-policy issues goes through these two stage: first he wants to withdraw and then he backpedals to, “We’ll withdraw unless we can renegotiate on more favorable terms.”  That’s his position on NAFTA.  And his position on Syria.

To say the least, Syria represents a complicated and dangerous situation.  The United States has military personnel in Syria as part of a coalition to eradicate ISIS.  On March 29th, Trump announced that the US would be withdrawing from Syria “very soon.”  Next came Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Douma; then the US and it British and French allies responded by bombing Syria.  While emotionally gratifying, the bombing wasn’t a strategy; as a result, Americans still do not understand what the US plans to do in Syria and the Middle East, in general.

Russia stands in contrast to most foreign countries because Trump doesn’t want to cut off relations with the former Soviet Union; instead he wants the two nations to get closer.  He muses that “getting along with Russia is a good thing” and “I think I could have a very good relationship with President Putin.”  Most foreign-policy experts believe that Russia is the number one threat to the United States and predict that the former Soviet Union will attempt to meddle in the US mid-term elections.  Nonetheless, Trump remains sanguine.  But he doesn’t have a US-Russia strategy beyond his “cutting a deal” with Vladimir Putin.  Trump’s ego has shoved aside his isolationism.

That’s what’s happening in North Korea.  Trump is getting ready for personal negotiations with Kim Jong-Un the North Korean leader whom he once derided as “little rocket man.”  It’s not clear what Trump’s strategy is but it is clear that he sees this as an opportunity to cut a historic deal.

In addition to vision, one of the characteristics of a successful businessman is collaboration — the ability to work effectively with a team.  Trump doesn’t possess this attribute.  He is negotiating the troubled waters of foreign policy on his own guided only by his erratic instincts.

Donald Trump endangers the United States.  And the world.