Talking Trump’s Policies

USINDO discussion with Johns Hopkins dean focuses on US foreign and defense policies under new administration

By Gilang Ardana
Tuesday, February 14, 2017

World leaders will need to change foreign policy direction to adapt to US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy. This was the key takeaway from the “USINDO Special Open Forum: The Direction of US Foreign and Defense Policy under the Trump Administration” on January 31.

Vali R. Nasr, Dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in the US, was the key speaker at the United States-Indonesia Society (USINDO) event, discussing the America First policy before a full house of eager listeners at the Mercantile Athletic Club in Jakarta.

Nasr outlined several key ways in which the Trump administration will distance itself from the foreign and defense policies of former president Barack Obama. Unlike Obama, the Trump administration will place its biggest focus on domestic issues, and on key foreign issues that it believes directly impact US citizens. This will have significant consequences on shifting the direction of the country’s foreign policy.

First, according to Nasr, Trump will not necessary place his faith in US global leadership and allies. The Obama administration tended to pursue an approach of “leading from behind,” by getting things done with or by its allies and emphasizing diplomacy and not acting unilaterally. This is not something we can expect from the Trump administration.

“[Trump] does not believe in America’s [global] leadership, allies and diplomacy,” said Nasr. “He has narrower interests [than Obama] and sees the US having less responsibility to manage global order.”

Second is the shift in geopolitical focus. Obama’s focus was on pivoting to Asia by focusing on economic means. However, Trump does not see this as essentially important, preferring to pivot to Russia. This is not a means to contain Russia, but focuses more on how Russia can be a friend to help the US tackle international problems, including China’s manipulation of its domestic currency.  

On defense policy, the visiting academic said that Trump has defined a narrower context of what constitutes a “threat” to the US.

“The administration is focusing on physical security for Americans, such as building a wall [on the Mexican border], immigration bans,” he said. “As [his approach] is much more domestic, thus Trump does not see foreign intelligence having great relevance to the administration.”

The paradigm of “protecting America from fundamental threats” also extends to trade, with the administration seemingly considering trade deals harmful to the US economy. This explains why it wants to review the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, Canada and the US, withdraw from the Trans-Pacific partnership and place a red alert on trade relations with China.

“He just does not see the strategic value of trade [for the US],” said Nasr.

When asked what possible progress the US will see under an inward-looking Trump administration, Nasr shared his view on the possible winning sectors.

“I think we can expect good progress for the financial services and infrastructure sectors,” he said in closing.


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