Just three months into his presidency, U.S. President Donald Trump is flexing his muscles in Asia and the Middle East, displaying a tougher U.S. foreign policy than his predecessor Barack Obama.
Trump recently ordered a surprising missile strike against Syria to retaliate for a reported chemical attack by the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad. He also ordered the military to drop a “mother of bombs,” which is the most powerful non-nuclear bomb, in Afghanistan to kill scores of terrorists. At the same time, he has rattled sabres at the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) over its nuclear and missile programs, by re-directing a U.S. carrier strike group to the waters near the Korean Peninsula. Experts are divided on assessing Trump’s foreign policy only three months into his presidency. While some have made a big deal out of those moves, others contend those strikes, at least so far, may not make a much difference. “Trump definitely has a tougher foreign policy than Obama,” Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies of the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua.
Trump is more willing to deploy military forces and to bomb adversaries, while Obama preferred to rely on diplomacy to solve problems and used military responses only as a last resort, he reasoned. “Trump sometimes bypasses the diplomacy option and goes straight to military action. That has put foreign leaders on notice that his approach is more muscular and more impulsive,” West said. Trump “is likely to be impatient with traditional diplomacy and more prone to quick military action designed to achieve specific objectives,” he said. The DPRK is “a good example of this,” West said, adding that Trump already has put North Korea on notice that he will not tolerate continued missiles and nuclear testings.”He sees that as a threat to the United States and American allies. But if diplomacy does not produce the desired results, Trump has said that all options, including military ones, are on the table,” West said.
Dan Mahaffee, senior vice president and director of policy at the Center for the Study of Congress and the Presidency, told Xinhua that Trump’s foreign policy reflects a greater willingness to use U.S. military force when the circumstances require it. Trump’s top aides like Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster have served in recent conflicts, and understand that military force is one tool of many in the U.S. foreign policy toolbox, Mahaffee said. “I think Obama was more skeptical of the efficacy of U.S. military force, especially when applied to the Syria conflict, as well as concerns about escalation with Russia and Iran, especially as the nuclear deal with Iran was a significant foreign policy goal for the administration,” he said.
Trump wants to demonstrate that the U.S. is not shy about using force to achieve its policy aims, and that the Trump Administration is more willing to consider military action than the Obama Administration, Mahaffee said. But Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua that it is too early to draw conclusion that Trump has a tougher foreign policy. Trump dropped one big bomb in Afghanistan, the explosive yield of which is similar to what the U.S. drops every day, cumulatively, in these wars, if not less than the daily average, O’Hanlon said. “There is no perceptible effect yet of any of his uses of force on the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan or the crisis in Korea, beyond trends that were already underway during the Obama years,” O’Hanlon said. He noted that Obama killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and used drone strikes to an unprecedented degree in killing terrorists around the world.
Trump is hoping that world leaders perceive “a sense of muscularity and unpredictability,” but “we shall see,” O’Hanlon said.Many are worried about further escalation of the tensions on the Korean Peninsula, as Trump has sent an aircraft carrier strike group to the region. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, speaking Tuesday in Tokyo, Japan, warned again that “all options are on the table” in order to “achieve our shared goal of a nuclear free Korean peninsula,” though dialogue is still the best way to go forward.