Trump v. Obama: Foreign Policy

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After his first year of presidency, President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union address, which emphasized his differences from former President Barack Obama in their approaches to foreign policy. Trump’s speech emphasized his nationalistic, isolationist focus, whereas much of Obama’s foreign policy focused on diplomacy.

Landmark policies and actions Obama supported and created include the Syrian red line, the support of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine problem and diplomatic agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump’s major foreign policy moves include the proliferation of military and nuclear arsenals, support of a single-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and general isolationism.

In Syria, Obama famously declared that the U.S. would enforce a “red line” with regard to chemical weapons in Syria. He said that if Bashar Assad, Syria’s President, used chemical weapons, the U.S. would respond with military action. The red line was a hardline threat to Syria, but when Assad used chemical weapons on his rebel forces, the U.S. did not respond with swift military action.

At the end of his presidency, Obama reiterated the need for a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict in which both states maintain peace and claims to their land. Trump is open to supporting a one-state solution to the conflict. In support of this position, Trump has advocated moving the U.S. Embassy from Israel to Jerusalem.

Further, Obama was supportive of civilian control of the military. His cabinet was largely diplomats, political scientists and academics. In contrast, Trump has filled his cabinet with current and former military personnel. This move effectively increased the power and funding of the military.

Trump has promoted isolationist policies such as withdrawing from international agreements, like the Paris Climate Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Both moves were controversial, and Trump used them to emphasize his nationalist agenda that attempts to protect American jobs and people by avoiding “unfair” international deals.

Generally, Trump is very nationalistic and isolationist, pushing a “protect America” agenda. He focuses on internal policy in order to promote national strength and increase international power. Obama, on the other hand, was diplomatic and more in favor of working with other nations on peaceful ground. Trump couples his domestic focus with a competitive outlook on foreign affairs and international cooperation.

The policies are similar on the issues of decreasing North Korean aggression, combatting China in the South China Sea and responding to countries threatening nuclear war.

Additionally, Trump and Obama both resist China’s increasing status as a world power and specifically oppose Chinese action in the South China Sea. China has claimed power and ignored agreed to restrictions in the area. It has even created man-made islands for artillery bases. Trump is more vocal about his opposition to China. However, his foreign policy approach to China does not differ significantly from Obama’s.

Finally, both Trump and Obama refuse to negotiate or talk with countries that threaten nuclear war. For instance, both presidents present a hardline to North Korea that essentially states that North Korea must give up its nuclear arsenal before the U.S. will open talks. Obama favored economic sanctions and international cooperation in order to deter North Korea, and Trump has favored increasing the U.S. nuclear arsenal for deterrence. Trump used more vitriolic and aggressive language in reference to North Korea, yet he, again, has not altered the U.S.’s fundamental approach to the situation.

Photo Courtesy of ABC News.

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