The Trump Foreign Policy Doctrine May Be Taking Shape - Sunday Political Brunch April 29, 2018


CHARLESTON, West Virginia – More and more these days, the focus of the White House seems to be on foreign policy. President Trump has had a mixed record on his domestic agenda, but like many of his predecessors, going abroad lets him act as more of a free agent. We may about to see more of this, so let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“France’ – It’s tit-for-tat. Last year the French government gave President Trump a lavish reception in Paris. This week Trump returned the favor by hosting French President Emmanuel Macron for a state dinner at the White House. Yes, it’s a lot of pomp and ceremony (not to mention great food and wine), but it’s also a show of international solidarity with our allies who have been jittery in the year-plus Trump term. And I know it sounds cliché, but it gives a very unconventional president the occasion to look “presidential” in the more conventional sense. President Trump also gained a new Secretary of State in Mike Pompeo this week.

“Little Rocket Man” – President Trump loves to call people names, and we should be used to it by now. During the presidential campaign, his rival Senator Ted Cruz, (R) Texas, was called, “Lyin’ Ted.” In the general election former Senator Hillary Clinton, (D) New York, simply was labeled, “Crooked Hillary.” Say what you want about Trump, but he knows something about marketing and creating a bumper sticker that sticks. So, when he started referring to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as, “Little Rocket Man” after his abysmal missile launches, the double-entendre did not fall on deaf ears. And, yes, many people found it hysterical and I’m sure it embarrassed Kim. But then this week the leaders of North and South Korea met at the DMZ for the first time in over a decade; and the Kim-Trump summit is next.

“DACA” – Despite some successes, the President also had a foreign policy setback this week. For the third time, a federal District Court or Court of Appeals, has stopped his non-enforcement of the DACA policy set forth by President Obama. Yes, DACA is more of an immigration issue than foreign policy, but it is indeed both. Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court will likely answer this issue. And if the courts rule against Trump, look for legislative efforts to reverse the decision – assuming Republicans keep control of Congress.

“Why Presidents Do This” – Every President in my lifetime (and likely before), felt hamstrung by the checks and balances of Congress and the Federal Courts – especially on domestic issues. But all Presidents have had a much freer hand on foreign policy. Why? Well, the Constitution only requires Senate approval on treaties with foreign counties, so you don’t have to mess with the often-unruly House. Second – especially since the advent of Air Force One – is the imagery of our president travelling to a foreign land, whether friend or foe. The photo ops with that jet on international soil, with world leaders shaking hands, is gold. It beats staying home locked in an ugly battle with Congress on a budget bill.

“Reagan’s Tough Talk Worked” – ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” shouted President Reagan while standing outside Brandenburg Gate in Berlin - forty years after the end of World War II - but still in the height of the Cold War. Several months later, the wall indeed came down – perhaps more due to the collapse of the Soviet economy, than the harshness of the rhetoric. But, words do matter. Reagan was always good at tough talk (and more importantly conveying the tone that he meant business – whether he’d really take any action or not). Trump’s bluster may be the same kind of tone that makes North Korea flinch and back down. We’ll see.

“Clinton – Iraq” – Not only does the Constitution give a president more latitude on international relations, the public does, too. Not long after President Clinton took office, there was an assassination plot in the Mideast, to kill the man he had just defeated, President George H. W. Bush. Clinton responded by launching cruise missiles into Baghdad. “The Iraqi attack against President Bush was an attack against our country and against all Americans. We could not, and have not, let such action against our nation go unanswered. A firm response from the first days of our Revolution, America’s security has depended on the clarity of this message: don’t tread on us!” It was one of those moments where Americans stood shoulder-to-shoulder regardless of party. Politically, it was a stroke of genius.

“A Nixonian Moment?” – For better, or for worse, Richard Nixon will always be remembered for three things: Resigning over Watergate; opening Cold War diplomacy with the Soviet Union; and, opening diplomatic relations with China. The first is a testimony to his raging political paranoia; the second and third a testimony for his brilliance for political courage and ability to seize a moment and create an opportunity. Nixon could be brilliant, even in his own darkness. Is President Trump sitting down with Kim Jong Un on the same level? Historically no, because Kim is not of the status of China or Russia. But Trump’s harsh rhetoric and tough talk, followed by diplomatic talks, may neutralized the North Korean threat. That’s huge!

“How’d He Get Here?” – Yes, a year and a half after he was elected a lot of people are still scratching their heads saying, “How on Earth did Trump get to the White House?” Like many people I have become a Netflix junkie, so let me recommend two shows. “Trump: An American Dream” is a fascinating four-part series with mostly news clips and TV shows from the 1970s to the present. Whether you love Trump or loathe him, it’s fascinating multi-media refresher course in where he came from and how he arrived at this moment in time. The other is the film, “Get Me Roger Stone.” In the end you will love or despise Stone for how he does what he does, but he provides a fascinating insight. Both programs are provocative and well-done!

What do you want President Trump to do on the international stage? Just click the comment button at

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, analyst and author. He is now Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options