Trump’s Foreign Policy Mishmash

Under fierce attack from the moment of his stunning election, President Trump has failed to pursue a coherent foreign policy as he mixes and matches old-style belligerence with an ad hoc pragmatism, explains Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

President Trump’s foreign policy has been an incredible mishmash of contradictions, perhaps partly a result of unsuccessful tactical concessions to keep his political enemies forever guessing his real intentions. But the underlying reality is that many of his personnel choices have created an organizational chart that would fit the agenda of a neoconservative president.

President Donald Trump announces the selection of Gen. H.R. McMaster as his new National Security Adviser on Feb. 20, 2017. (Screen shot from

Trump has appointed a great many advisers and administrators at odds with his America First vision, people such as National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster; Fiona Hill of the National Security Council staff; Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley; and Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis. None of them share Trump’s overall vision of having the United States step back from day-to-day running of the world and engaging in never-ending wars, refocusing the nation on rebuilding its infrastructure and job creation.

The announcement this past week that President Trump is proceeding with the nomination of Jon Huntsman to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Russia falls entirely in line with this pattern. Though Huntsman does not speak a word of Russian, he has great talents and professional experience as a diplomat, having served as George W. Bush’s ambassador to China. Yet, as the chair of the Atlantic Council, a pro-NATO/anti-Russia think tank, his world view is both clear and anti-Trump. Moreover, in his service in Beijing, Huntsman was solicitous of anti-regime forces, at times as disruptive as President Obama’s Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul was in Moscow.

So, Donald Trump has assembled a foreign policy and security policy team that would give an incoming President Mike Pence the framework for a fully integrated Cold War administration if Trump were impeached or otherwise removed from office. With the possible exception of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump has not appointed anyone to positions requiring Senate confirmation who doesn’t fit this mold. Tillerson, the former Exxon/Mobil CEO, may share some of Trump’s more pragmatic goals but lacks any overriding strategic vision.

Beyond personnel, Trump has sought to show that he is no wimp by ordering a missile strike against Syria for an alleged use of chemical weapons and dropping the world’s largest conventional bomb on an Islamic State target in Afghanistan. But those demonstrations have not kept his detractors at bay for long, while making a muddle of his foreign policy, which the President has compounded by taking contradictory positions from day to day, such as when he threw Poland an anti-Russia bone before making a display of friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Germany.

The ‘Secret’ Meeting

This past week’s supposedly sensational news about a second “secret” meeting between Trump and Putin during the G-20’s festive dinner may offer a more accurate insight into Trump’s approach to foreign policy. The meeting took place in the presence of all the other heads of state, but nonetheless was exceptional insofar as it defied protocol. The U.S. President sat down next to Putin for a tête-à-tête without any of the U.S. delegation present and relying solely on the Russian interpreter to facilitate the conversation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with U.S. President Donald Trump at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. (Screen shot from

A Washington Post editorial focused on this fact: “To carefully calibrate messages to world leaders, presidents usually rely on an elaborate bureaucratic machine, including the interagency process and the National Security Council staff. Mr. Trump’s dinner chat showed once again his proclivity to act alone, and he undoubtedly created headaches. With no U.S. note-taker or interpreter, the U.S. national security structure was left without a record of the exchange, except for Mr. Trump’s memory.”

I would differ with the Post’s analysis in one key respect: Trump’s “proclivity to act alone” was not some ad hoc capricious act; it is the essence of his method of rule. Trump has chosen not to blend in with the status quo or to do things like other presidents have, but to run things as he did the Trump business empire, through a tiny circle of family members and trusted retainers operating outside any traditional corporate structure.

However, by rejecting past protocols and relying on non-expert friends and relations, Trump may be giving impetus to the drive to remove him from office. Policies built by Trump’s hands-on style are intrinsically no better than the policies built on an established bureaucracy, even one that has perpetuated its own secrecy and lies. Neither approach fulfills the principles of a democracy in which officials should be open and accountable to the citizens.

Today’s front page news that Trump accepts the latest congressional sanctions bill now before the House — directed against North Korea, Iran and Russia — is still more evidence of Trump’s lack of a coherent foreign policy. The bill, if enacted, will be a major obstacle to any improved or even normalized relations with Russia. It seeks to destroy the Russian-German Nordstream II project by targeting European partners and implementers and thus has raised the alarm of the otherwise tame, if not subservient, European Commission. And it goes against the entire logic of Trump’s foreign policy.

If Trump were to act like someone interested in defending the agenda that he ran on — refocusing the U.S. government on rebuilding America rather than trying to run the world — he would be rallying his supporters and reaching out to the broad public to educate them about the folly and likely harm of the sanctions bill. He would openly fight it by threatening a veto and making his position crystal clear. Instead, he is falling into line with the Washington Consensus.

How much longer must we wait for a government that opens its plans to a meaningful public debate and then implements those plans through the proper channels of dedicated and knowledgeable public servants?

Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.

35 comments for “Trump’s Foreign Policy Mishmash

  1. bob
    July 27, 2017 at 23:47

    usa is a pesant country. russia is a european country, lets see who germany picks for its gas.

  2. July 27, 2017 at 02:25

    Wow, 6 months into his Presidency and you paint President Trump as a total failure. I think your assessment is a total failure. Along with your career. Just my opinion, I suppose.

  3. PlutoC
    July 26, 2017 at 08:41

    This is a comment about journalism.

    I like the policy of The Conversation which is found on their “Who We Are” page: “We aim to help rebuild trust in journalism. All authors and editors sign up to our Editorial Charter. All contributors must abide by our Community Standards policy. We only allow authors to write on a subject on which they have proven expertise, which they must disclose alongside their article. Authors’ funding and potential conflicts of interest must also be disclosed. Failure to do so carries a risk of being banned from contributing to the site.”

    The author of this article is Gilbert Doctorow and at the end of his piece it is noted: “Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.”

    Is that bio snippet accurate? Russia Insider notes this, in part, about Mr. Doctorow: Gilbert Doctorow is a professional Russia watcher and actor in Russian affairs going back to 1965. After completing his studies, Mr. Doctorow pursued a business career focused on the USSR and Eastern Europe. From 1998-2002, Doctorow served as the Chairman of the Russian Booker Literary Prize in Moscow.”

    Is Mr. Doctorow “… a professional Russia watcher and actor in Russian affairs…”? If this is accurate, Consortium News should include this information as is required by The Conversation, “…they must disclose alongside their article.”

    It is worth repeating: “We aim to help rebuild trust in journalism.” – The Conversation

  4. Mild-ly Facetious
    July 25, 2017 at 17:42

    Comporting with Trumps
    foreign policy mishmash,
    could the below not depict
    Central American Migrants
    trudging towards “opportunity”

    into “The Land Of The Free
    and Home of the Brave”?
    Or ought we not Declare
    that options are limited and
    death blossoms await you.

  5. liam
    July 24, 2017 at 23:57
    • PlutoC
      July 26, 2017 at 13:28

      Global Research?! You should research GR to get both sides – lot of people have a lot to say.

  6. July 24, 2017 at 22:03

    I ask:
    When Are The Past and Present Leaders of a Number of Countries Going To Be Arrested For Financing, Training, Arming and Assisting Terrorists?

  7. exiled off mainstreet
    July 24, 2017 at 20:05

    It appears that the deep state/media/think tank power structure is far more powerful than any one man, and that Trump, despite appearances, lacks the spirit to really go after them. It is unfortunate, because I do not see their policies ending well. The best that can be hoped for seems to be some form of collapse preventing nuclear war.

  8. Mild-ly Facetious
    July 24, 2017 at 18:22
  9. July 24, 2017 at 17:37

    Politician is synonymous with “liar”. They peddle all that nice talk while campaigning and then get into office to be put into action for the deep state. Just the way it is.

    • Mild-ly Facetious
      July 24, 2017 at 18:01

      The ‘deep state’ doesn’t control the administrative state.
      The Administrative State ought to be our highest concern under Trump.

  10. Mild-ly Facetious
    July 24, 2017 at 17:35

    FobosDeimos “His prior talk about “getting along” with Russia and not meddling with other countries’ affairs was a buch of lies designed to fool electors.”

    — Maybe not so much a design of lies, but actually sheer ignorance. (Speaking out of the side of one’s mouth is classic Carnival Barker-ism.)

  11. FobosDeimos
    July 24, 2017 at 17:17

    “How much longer must we wait for a government that opens its plans to a meaningful public debate and then implements those plans through the proper channels of dedicated and knowledgeable public servants?”

    Well, as it has been very clear from at least January 20, 2017, you will have to wait forever. Trump is an unmitigated disaster, a standard bearer for global hegemony and full spectrum domination, just like Clinton, Bush Jr. and Obama. His prior talk about “getting along” with Russia and not meddling with other countries’ affairs was a buch of lies designed to fool electors.

  12. Mild-ly Facetious
    July 24, 2017 at 17:15

    Trump demands Europe pay more toward Nato in excoriating speech at Brussels summit

    Justin Huggler, berlin David Chazan, paris
    25 MAY 2017 • 8:00PM

    Donald Trump used his first Nato summit on Thursday to demand European countries pay more towards their defence.

    In an often uncomfortable speech, the US president lectured an audience of European leaders that included Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron of France and Germany’s Angela Merkel.

    “Nato members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations,” Mr Trump said, while other leaders looked on awkwardly.
    (Pay More is a demand which gives the EU A LOUDER VOICE IN DECISION MAKING, President Trump.)

  13. Zachary Smith
    July 24, 2017 at 12:48

    Today’s front page news that Trump accepts the latest congressional sanctions bill now before the House — directed against North Korea, Iran and Russia — is still more evidence of Trump’s lack of a coherent foreign policy. The bill, if enacted, will be a major obstacle to any improved or even normalized relations with Russia. It seeks to destroy the Russian-German Nordstream II project by targeting European partners and implementers and thus has raised the alarm of the otherwise tame, if not subservient, European Commission. And it goes against the entire logic of Trump’s foreign policy.

    It’s not just Trump, though I’m guessing neither he nor his cohorts have the sense or the ability to challenge the Congressional Neocons.

    Brussels is preparing to retaliate against the US if Washington pushes ahead with far-reaching new sanctions on Russia that hit European companies.

    Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, has called for an urgent review of how Brussels should respond if Europe’s energy companies or other businesses are targeted by sanctions under discussion in the US Congress.

    The election of the incompetent Trump has served to highlight the corrupt and equally incompetent US Congress. I’d wager this latest “sanctions” bill had some substantial input from US Big Energy corporations. In my opinion the Europeans are getting tired of suffering most of the pain when the US decides to “sanction” Russia. This latest bill is a clumsy effort to force them to switch to higher-priced US natural gas, and they’d be mighty foolish if they agreed.

    “EU ready to retaliate against US sanctions on Russia”

    Note: I didn’t include the link because using it takes a person to the FT paywall. Pasting the title in Google News search didn’t do any better – that feature no longer works for me. I’d suggest doing a cut/paste into Google Search and you might get the same access to the article as I did.

  14. Mild-ly Facetious
    July 24, 2017 at 10:06

    De-conflict deals show Syrian rebels know victory is out of sight

    Opposition leader Mohammad Alloush has realized that making a deal with the Russians is better than continuing in an uphill battle against them without broad support from elsewhere

    JULY 24, 2017

  15. Michael Kenny
    July 24, 2017 at 09:53

    Yet another article claiming that Trump pledged, vowed or ran on a platform promising to be “nice” in some way to Vladimir Putin, which tends to be code for capitulating to him in Ukraine. Trump is a master of doubletalk. He says everything and the contrary of everything (Mr Doctorow provides several examples in the article). For whatever reason, Mr Doctorow clearly wants Putin to win in Ukraine and realises that that can happen only if the US capitulates to him. So he heard what he wanted to hear of Trump’s doubletalk and believed what he wanted to believe. Incidentally, the claims about the European Commission are based on an alleged “internal document” which nobody seems to have seen and, in fact, the media outlets seem to be quoting each other. In addition, the outlets that are hyping the story the most are all classic anti-EU outlets (including Putin’s own RT). There is nothing whatsoever about this in the Commission’s press release database. That suggests fake news. It sounds like the classic “divide and conquer” strategy, which has been around for years and comes in two versions: the dastardly US forcing sanctions on the nice EU, which wants nothing more than to be Putin’s best friend, and the dastardly EU forcing sanctions on the nice US, which wants nothing more than to be Putin’s best friend. I stopped taking that argument seriously quite some time ago.

    • John P
      July 24, 2017 at 11:26

      Michael, I would be interested on your take of the Ukraine situation. From my understanding, Russia controlled the region after WWI and ceded the Crimea to the Ukraine because of it’s alignment and friendship with Russia. I think it quite important to Russia to have a southern port and can understand their wish to retain it. Most people in that area speak Russian and I gather want to remain a part of Russia.
      To me it was quite provocative to surround Russia with neo-NATO newbies and anti-missile systems. We saw how the US responded to missiles in Cuba in the 60s. From reading past articles in Consortium News, it seems that the US had a lot to do with the anti-Russian political changes in the Ukraine.
      This doesn’t mean I sit back and not try to assertain where things are going, for that is why I’m asking.

      • exiled off mainstreet
        July 24, 2017 at 20:13

        My guess is that his real understanding of the Ukrainian situation is what the uniparty power structure declares it to be. I have no respect for those employing Ukrainian fascists to further their own policy a la Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove of riding the bomb down to Russia. Such viewpoints do not deserve to be taken seriously as criminal, stupid and irrational.

    • Kiza
      July 24, 2017 at 12:00

      How would you define “the Putin’s win in Ukraine”, and how would you define the US win in Ukraine, and, finally, how would you define the win of the Ukrainians of all ethnicities in Ukraine?

      You could come up with the best definitions by putting your own family into a house on either side of the front line between the coup government troops and Donbass resisters for one week, even if just as a mind experiment. Your pompous and pretentious phrase “Putin’s win in Ukraine” would melt very quickly under the artillery barrage of either side.

      Is it so good sitting in the comfort of your own home in US and unleashing the dogs of war in Ukraine?

      • tina
        July 25, 2017 at 00:49

        According to most Americans, the answer is , yes, let those wars go on. Remember John Mcain,”Bomb, Bomb, Bomb. Iran” sung to the tune of the beach boys Barbra ann? No, Kiza , some of us do not want what you think. But you putting down people who really are helpful, does not do any good. I think we both want a life, but being snarky on the internet does not really promote what our desires are.

  16. john wilson
    July 24, 2017 at 05:19

    Whilst I hold no brief for Trump, I marvel at how he has coped so far. He found himself in the highest political office in the world and this having never held any political office at any level in his life. He as no political acumen or insight whatsoever and he finds himself like a bewildered mouse dropped into a huge pit of hungry snakes. Having won the presidency against fantastic odds and now he’s holding his own in the snake pit of political in intrigue and chicanery, so I can only admire his nerve and courage. He will need lots more nerve and courage in the months to come because the snakes in the pit are all poised, with arched bodies just waiting to strike him down and devour him. I believe there are those dark forces buried deem in the mire of the sate apparatus who have a terrible resolve to destroy Trump by any means.

    • tina
      July 25, 2017 at 01:09

      True, what you say. Kenneth Lay, Bernie Madoff , Got away with their scams, Some call them brilliant, others call them scam artists. I will concede this, there is some talent there that one person can convince so many about something… Salesmanship. Question, does a great salesman/saleswoman make a great leader?

    • PlutoC
      July 26, 2017 at 13:41

      He has proven to the world that he is the purest specimen of ethical and moral corruption on the face of the earth. He is determined to be the greatest ‘Dear Leader’ in the world. And, you, me and everyone that comprises the excluded and ignored 90% are to be his, and his fellow plutocrats,’ victims.

  17. Realist
    July 24, 2017 at 03:33

    Trump has been thoroughly intimidated by the Neocons and the Deep State. He knows they are out to frame him for something and remove him from office in disgrace. That is why he has put together a government 100% at odds with his campaign rhetoric and one that only rabid Russophobes could like. His instincts might still be to communicate amicably with Putin, as we saw in their recent meeting at the G20, but that’s why the insiders who handle his schedule will make sure such things don’t happen too often.

    I also don’t expect the crowd he has put in power to follow his wishes or even explicit commands very closely. I think the Defense department and the intelligence communities in particular will go (have been going) their own way. What department is Nikki Haley under, State? In any case, she’s got her own agenda which she pursues with gusto at the U.N. All Trump seems to be allowed to do is tweet on his smart phone. The only sane player in his cabinet at the moment seems to be Tillerson who seems to recognise that the brinksmanship must stop somewhere short of nuclear war. Will he advise the congress in strong terms to put the kibosh on its ill-advised new legislation to place yet more sanctions on Russia for something it did not do and to tie the hands of the president to undo the damage they are wreaking on our international relations with the EU?

    I did not know that Huntsman was considered a rabid Russophobe. We got to know him from the 2012 presidential campaign as the former ambassador to China, who was supposedly reasonable and pragmatic, at least compared to Mitt Romney. A wise, uncowed president who truly wants improved relations with Russia would have named an accomplished, unbiased Russian scholar, like Doctorow, to the job. Stephen F. Cohen could probably provide a long list of qualified candidates. Heck, Tillerson who worked extensively with Russia in the private sector could have chosen better than a Russophobic politician. How much worse can this keep getting?

  18. Kiza
    July 24, 2017 at 02:08

    First thing, Trumps impeachment would not change much in the US policy towards Russia, perhaps only the speed of hurling towards a full-scale war with Russia would increase under his replacement. US is already in a low-intensity war with Russia, knocking off Russian ambassadors and officials in third countries, setting up false-flags against Russia (for example, MH-17) and shooting down Russian planes through third-party proxies, all with plausible deniability so far.

    Second thing, the ambassadors are meant to build bridges between countries. It is customary to send someone who understand the locals and their culture and sometimes even openly likes them. This opens up channels with the locals. Totally opposite, in a customary combination of hubris and stupidity, the US sends the most reputable regime changers and most pronounced haters of the nation to be the US ambassadors in Russia. Whilst this works well with small countries and may thus be justified, Russia is not a small country. Such approach serves no purpose other then to create further tensions and confrontations. If you are known in Russia as a hater of Russia, can you even talk with the local opposition without compromising them in the eyes of the undecided majority of the local voters? How much money do you need to pay the opposition just to talk with your “ambassador”? This stupidity started with the appointment of McFaul, who was not an open Russia hater but was an expert in regime-change. He was most successfully neutered by FSB and a US-style law for the registration of foreign agents was established under McFaul’s ambassadorship. And now Huntsman of the Atlantic Council. I only fail to understand why the Russians bother with such characters, why not just deny them accreditation. Perhaps there is some learning benefit in dealing with the crap. Or maybe Putin is happy to solidify his hold on power by waving such stupidity in front of the noses of the locals: “Look who they are sending to build bridges. US are not our friend, do you want me or some other US puppet such was Yeltsin again?” With such US policies, no wonder Putin’s popularity is heading towards 90%.

    • Joe Tedesky
      July 24, 2017 at 09:48

      Kiza here is some food for thought. What if Trump ditched his American interpreter, because his interpreter is a Neocon. Also, could it be possible the Russians continue to accept American Neocon ambassadors, because then Russia stays close to studying these dark hearts of diplomacy?

      • Kiza
        July 24, 2017 at 11:43

        ” … the Russians continue to accept American Neocon anbassadors, because then Russia stays close to studying these dark hearts if diplomacy “. Yes, a very similar thought, this is what I meant by “learning experience”. Keep your friends close but your enemies even closer, to study them and try out the techniques that counter them. Thanks Joe.

        • Joe Tedesky
          July 24, 2017 at 12:50

          No thank Michael Corleone.

      • July 24, 2017 at 11:50

        “What if Trump ditched his American interpreter, because his interpreter is a Neocon”…good point, probably hand picked to spy on Trump

    • tina
      July 25, 2017 at 00:23

      Whoever you are Kiza, you are not familiar with Stanford University. Our Russian expert Condaleeza Rice teaches business at the McKnight School of Business at Stanford. I am being redundant because you probably do know that., By the way ,Condaleezza Rice studied under George Schultz ( Rememeber him ) who persuaded her to study Russia, and the former USSR. Yes Mr. McFaul at Stanford is also a scholar, and an former diplomat, Get over yourself, KIZA, McFaul and Rice both teach at the same university. That is what intelligent discussion is about. It is what they do. KIZA, go to Bob Jones University, they will be very wecoming to you.

      • Kiza
        July 26, 2017 at 11:41

        Tina, please go troll somebody else. Your unhealthy obsession with me and my comments does not look sane.

    • tina
      July 25, 2017 at 00:37

      Kiza ,seriously are you underage? I’ll be honest here , I am 53 and lived my life mostly in Germany 1963- 1982. Then I came to the USA, and have been back and forth since. What happened to you? Why is the former ambassador Mc Faul such a problem in your opinion. Did he hurt you? Did Condeeleeza Rice hurt me? What is your issue with one person, but not the other? Did someone seriously piss you off? Did you not get a good grade at Stanford? Did McFaul fail you in a class?

    • tina
      July 25, 2017 at 01:23


      Ask yourself, if you are so concerned about ambassadorships, around the world, why, is Mrs. Gingrich the Third , our us Ambassador to the Vatican? Thrice Married husband, the Catholic Church frowns on that, yet Callista is our representative to the Vatican. HMMMMMM I wonder why? Kiza, you are smart, can you explain that one to me?

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