The president Trump’s flip flops and zig zags on foreign policy issues make believe the US has no coherent strategy. There is each and every reason to say so. Many world leaders and experts seem to be perplexed at least. But a deeper look into the events shows quite a different picture. It’s important to review the administration’s activities to get a clue to its foreign policy.
The president has proposed to cut US expenditure on the UN, he has talked disparagingly about NATO and never given due to the role international institutions play in the contemporary world – something ex-President Obama set great store by. Instead, Donald Trump relies on interstate relations to protect the interests of «America first». He needs allies and partners. The priority is given to personal contacts with key foreign leaders. The list includes: the UK, Ireland, Mexico, Canada, Japan, Israel, Germany, Egypt, China and Italy. So, according to the adopted gradation, allies come first, partners (Egypt) second with others to follow.
There is method to his madness here. He is not rushing to meet everyone to increase US clout everywhere, but sticks to a well thought out pattern. He does have a strategy with traditional allies topping the priorities’ list.
There is another trend worth mentioning. Vice President Mike Pence is clearly playing an important role in the implementation of the allies-based foreign policy.
The Vice President has just wrapped up his first Asia Pacific tour having visited key Asia Pacific states: Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Australia. The visit took place at the time the US was balancing on the brink of conflict with North Korea. The mission of utmost importance was entrusted to nobody else but Vice President Mike Pence. In South Korea, it did strike an eye that he wore a green military jacket normally put on during visits to defense installations. The brown bomber jacket-clad vice president spoke tough, saying the «strategic patience» was over. He sent a clear message.
Unlike Donald Trump, Mike Pence has significant foreign policy experience. He was a long serving member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (2007-2013). Mr. Pence welcomed the operation in Iraq and the establishment of no-fly zone in Libya. During the election campaign he supported the idea of improving the relationship with Russia while confronting common enemy – the radical movements in the Middle East. He appears to change the stance since then. Actually, it’s hard to make conclusions about his views and their evolution as he has shied away from making statements against the background of Trump’s turnarounds.
He does not have to. It’s not statements but the level of trust between him and the president that matters.
Today, Trump has a strong foreign policy team, including State Secretary Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Herbert McMaster, the national security adviser. The vice president is to join and find his niche. He has no independent role but his influence on foreign policy may grow as the president has to willy-nilly concentrate more on domestic issues.
His predecessors – Richard Cheney and Joe Biden, had great influence on foreign policy. The Obama’s famous barb is still vivid in memory. He called Dick Cheney «the worst president of my lifetime». Joe Biden could have won the Democratic nomination in 2016 if he wanted too.
The current vice president’s growing clout became clearly visible this February during his European debut visit to meet key NATO allies. He was chosen to soothe Europeans after President Trump called NATO «obsolete», giving priority to isolationist «America First» policy. According to Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, Mike Pence told Baltic States’ leaders, «if you don’t want to call the president, you can always call me» – a very important detail to demonstrate his standing within the administration.
He says many things with a catch. In Europe, he praised NATO but did not forget to emphasize that other countries in the alliance were expected to abide by their defense spending commitments. Talking about Ukraine, he said Russia was to be held accountable but he also believed it was a potential partner and the search for common ground was to be continued. His visit was well prepared to go smoothly, without a hitch.
According to Josh Rogin, a columnist for the Global Opinions section of The Washington Post, the role and influence of the vice president, not enshrined in any law, is determined in any administration by three things: his direct relationship with the president, his building of a personal portfolio of issues, and the effectiveness of his team. When it comes to foreign policy, Vice President Mike Pence is quietly succeeding on all three fronts.
Indeed, the vice president deftly navigates within the president’s agenda while working in a coherent, efficient manner with White House aides, who also aspire to have the president’s ear on foreign policy issues. He has his own team to rely on, for instance his national security adviser Andrea Thompson, who boasts vast intelligence and foreign policy experience. Some time ago the vice president played an important role in bringing on board Director of National Intelligence-designate Dan Coats, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley – the people President Trump knew little about.
The Trump’s foreign policy is far from being a helter-skelter implementation of «U-turn» strategy. It’s a well thought over diplomacy aimed at engaging and using the US influence in key parts of the world consistently over time. There is strong foreign policy team formed where the vice president’s clout is evidently growing. Mike Pence is respected on both sides of the aisle in Congress and has good chances to become president one day. These are the things Russia and other countries have to take into account while dealing with the current US administration.