News Analysis: Trump's foreign policy in first 100 days: tough, but lacks overall strategy

Source: Xinhua| 2017-04-30 10:06:36|Editor: Liu
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U.S. President Donald Trump (Front) delivers a speech during a rally marking his first 100 days in office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the United States, April 29, 2017. (Xinhua/Yan Liang)

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, April 29 (Xinhua) -- In his first 100 days in office, U.S. President Donald Trump's foreign policy has been tough, but lacking an overall strategy, U.S. experts have said.

Experts said Trump's election marks a new era for U.S. foreign policy, as he is more willing to use military force and bomb adversaries.

Critics have blasted Trump's predecessor Barack Obama as an ivory tower intellectual who was paralyzed by fear of escalation in some areas and therefore took no real action on pressing foreign policy matters.

By contrast, Trump has shown that he spends less time deliberating and is quicker to take action in certain areas.

Since taking office on Jan. 20, Trump has gotten tough on both Syria and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), in what experts see as a break from the previous administration's more diplomatic approach to foreign policy.

Indeed, earlier this month, Trump ordered a surprise missile strike against Syria to send a warning to the Syrian government after a reported chemical weapons attack.

He also ordered the U.S. military to drop the "mother of all bombs" -- the most powerful non-nuclear bomb -- in Afghanistan, in a bid to send a message that he means business.

At the same time, Trump has declared the end of the so-called "strategic patience" policy over DPRK's nuclear and missile programs, while putting all options, including a military strike, on the table. He even ordered a U.S. carrier strike group to the waters near the Korean Peninsula.

"I think that the crises to date have been managed okay," Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua.


While some experts said that Trump is faring well in terms of foreign policy overall, others said his recent moves in Syria have backfired, and have been detrimental to U.S. interests.

"Trump's anti-chemical weapons missile strike against Syrian (government) forces caused the Syrians to redouble their conventional bombing of pro-U.S. rebels in non-IS areas of Syria," Wayne White, former deputy director of the State Department's Middle East Intelligence Office, told Xinhua.

On the war against the IS, White said the Trump administration is doing nothing different than Obama.

"Despite promises to crush IS, Trump has done practically nothing different than his predecessor so far," White said.

"A small U.S. troop reinforcement, something the Obama administration already was doing in stages for over 2 years, plus an aerial bombardment mostly unmodified," he added.

Consequently, the situation remains largely unchanged: gradual Iraqi progress against remaining IS forces in Mosul and limited gains by U.S.-backed anti-IS forces around the IS capital of Raqqa, he said.

Trump's modest reinforcement of anti-IS Syrian forces with more U.S. personnel helps, but has not yet resulted in a swifter advance on Raqqa, he said.


The DPRK has been a focal point of Trump's foreign policy during his first 100 days, and it will likely continue to be so going forward, experts said.

Indeed, Trump has been ratcheting up pressure on the DPRK recently in the hope of coercing the Asian nation to give up its nuclear and missile programs.

On Wednesday, all U.S. Senators were invited to a highly unusual meeting at the White House to hear briefings by U.S. diplomatic, defense and intelligence officials on the DPRK situation. One day later, the Senate held a special hearing on the issue.

Experts said Trump is pursuing a DPRK policy somewhat like his predecessor, though a more direct one, with heightened rhetoric and pressure against Pyongyang.

Trump has in recent weeks re-directed a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to the area in a bid to send a signal both to Pyongyang and to U.S. allies in the region, after the DPRK's recent missile test launch.

Michael Auslin, director of Japan Studies and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told Xinhua that Trump is pursuing an "Obama-plus" strategy on the DPRK issue, which encompasses the same approach of reassuring allies and maintaining military assets in the region, but uses heightened rhetoric and more direct threats.

Troy Stangarone, senior director at the Korea Economic Institute, told Xinhua the movement of the carrier strike group was done in a bid to reassure South Korea and to send a signal to the DPRK that there are limits to what Washington views as provocations.

Still, while the military option remains on the table, Trump has few options beyond those available to Obama, and is expected to pursue a policy of increasing pressure on the DPRK through sanctions and diplomatic isolation, Stangarone said.

Some experts said that so far, Trump's foreign policy encompasses tactical responses to specific issues, but lacks an overall, long-term global vision and doctrine to tie everything together.

Others pointed out that the new president has only been in office around three months, and there is still time to put together a Trump doctrine on foreign policy.

"The solid performances in the first 100 days shouldn't be over-interpreted, because there are still 1,400 days to go more or less, and because the big decisions on major policies haven't yet been made," O'Hanlon said.