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Trump, hyper partisanship, and U.S. foreign policy

By Dr. John Davis

Hyper partisanship is destroying U.S. foreign policy and it is imperiling American interests around the world. There is another more profound issue: it is being utilized as a weapon to undermine a presidency. What groups are associated with hyper partisanship? Are there waves associated with hyper partisanship in the United States? Is there evidence that President Donald Trump has succeeded in select areas of his foreign policy agenda despite the presence of hyper partisanship? 

Democrats, Never Trumpers, and a large segment of the media have incessantly labored to craft a litany of narratives designed to reduce and wherever possible undo the significance of any foreign policy success, big or small, that is connected to the presidency of Donald Trump. The actions by these entities (and others) can best be characterized as “unbridled hyper partisanship”; a political attempt to undermine a president in the venue of foreign policy. A question begs, when did the hyper partisanship commence?

Evidence of the hyper partisanship is apparent throughout the Republican presidential primary process. However, once it became clear the business mogul was on the verge of becoming the Republican Party presidential nominee, the hyper partisanship intensified.

A new wave of hyper partisanship was unveiled during the 2016 general election. Democrat Party presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton, her campaign minions, and the Democratic National Committee created an ever-expanding caricature of the candidate that asserted Trump’s foreign policy agenda would undo the Atlantic alliance, unleash war between the U.S. and North Korea, the president’s threat to withdraw from the nuclear agreement would increase instability with Iran, and destroy long-held bipartisan tenets most notably American support for human rights.

Other corollary narratives were revealed during the general election. Trump’s “temperament and unpredictability,” his non-traditional approach to diplomacy, the absence of rudimentary knowledge of foreign policy they argued meant allies and enemies of the United States would take advantage of the novice president. Media allies and Never Trumpers joined in the fray to further weaken the candidate.   

In the aftermath of Trump’s stunning electoral victory hyper partisanship shifted to elevated level. During the transition period a new assemblage assumed center stage. An alliance of the Resistance, the Never Trumpers, a coalition of Media elites, members of the foreign policy establishment, and elements of the “deep state” joined forces to unleash a new more expansive set of lucid and often fantastical assessments to once again mount an attempt to destabilize Trump’s external agenda.

In conjunction with the scornful critiques, the coalition penned daily articles and opinion pieces that collectively constructed multiple narratives—the era of American leadership is over, multiple wars are on the horizon, the new president will undo the NATO alliance, and a new era in anti-Americanism will unfold. These narratives created a cotton industry designed to induce fear, create instability, and weaken the incoming Trump administration.

After the narratives failed in the opening years of the Trump presidency, another round of scripted chronicles was released. Those in “the resistance” incessantly asserted that Trump is comfortable around dictators. Throngs proclaimed the president’s foreign policy is incoherent and that Trump is a stooge of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

That not being enough, these groups articulated the president’s isolationist impulse would end the post-WW II American-created international liberal order. They noted the implementation of America First, multilateralism, a critical tenet of American foreign policy, under Trump is no longer considered a viable component of the U.S. diplomatic toolbox. 

The 2020 presidential campaign is well underway. The alliance, combined with the assistance of twenty-plus candidates, is attempting to exploit an enlarged megaphone to launch yet another wave of hyper partisanship. Thus far, the narratives and the piquant attacks have been unfocused.

One narrative provided evidence of the type of attacks that loom on the horizon. Former vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden argued, “If he [Trump] wins reelection, I promise you there will be no NATO in four … or five years.” This statement has been repeated across social media platforms and in media circles. In the end, Biden’s rhetoric amounted to nothing more than a repackaged narrative.

Despite the hyper partisanship, now well into year three of his presidency, many of the president’s supporters (a collection of Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and a large segment of the military) assert Trump still amassed a conspicuous list of foreign policy successes. For example, President Trump ended the Islamic States’ caliphate, revamped the war on terror, rebuilt the armed forces (to include the creation of the Space Force), improved a host of bilateral relationships with allies around the world.

Significantly, supporters of Trump assert hyper partisanship overshadowed another critical success—the unveiling of a bold defense strategy that is designed to confront the twin challenges posed by Russia and China. The same defense strategy is being unleashed to confront rogue states that are causing mischief in select regions around the world. 

At another level, supporters of the president assert Trump unveiled two additional strategies, America First and Maximum Pressure. Irrespective of the criticism, each strategy is responsible for dramatic modifications in the conduct of American foreign policy the president’s supporters lament. Advocates of the president articulate that America First restored respect for the image of the US abroad and it is protecting American interests and expanding markets for jobs for the American worker.

Trumpites argued Maximum pressure has been utilized to undermine rogue states, with particular emphasis on Iran and North Korea. Trump disrupted Iran’s attempt to expand their Shiite order, launched a cyberattackthat targeted Iranian command and control systems of their rocket and missile launchers, halted North Korea’s nuclear testing, undermined their economy, and set the stage for a new relationship. Overlooked according to Trumpites is the strategy of maximum pressure has been successful in encouraging Beijing (through economic sanctions and the threat of force against North Korea) to force Kim Jung Un to consider denuclearization or risk instability and potentially renewed hostilities in the Korean Peninsula. 

On the trade front, the president’s acolytes rave about the successful trade renegotiations with South Korea (KORUS), Mexico and Canada (USMCA), the short-term agreement with the European Union that prevented a trade war, and the conclusion of a major Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) with Vietnam. 

Missed in all the mischaracterizations of the president’s foreign policy, according to Steven Metz, professor at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, is “there is potential for a ‘Trump revolution’ in security policy.” Unclear, said Metz is its direction. 

Amid the implementation of an expansive and controversial foreign policy agenda, often eclipsed by multiple waves of hyper partisanship, Trump’s revolution, what can also be described as “Trump’s World,” may be unfolding before our very eyes. Likewise, the peril and opportunities associated with this world is also unfolding. During the campaign for reelection, the president’s stewardship of an imperfect and provocative foreign policy agenda, like the bustling economy, will serve as an important barometer of the Trump presidency. 

Dr. John Davis is a professor and author. He has a forthcoming book Trump’s World: Peril and Opportunity in U.S. Foreign Policy After Obama. Among his areas of expertise is foreign policy, national security, international relations, and counterterrorism.  

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