Foreign Policy at the RNC: Crisis and Contradiction

Image: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

By Solomon Bennett

The foreign policy priorities outlined during the RNC reflect a foreign policy of contradictions. The tendencies of President Trump and the Republican Party—distain for federal government, friendliness with powerful moneyed interests, and policies of austerity and privatization—are increasingly incongruent with national priorities both domestically and internationally.

In 2016, President Trump struck a vaguely populist note, campaigning to prioritize the national interest and forgotten working class over counterproductive foreign military entanglements, but his foreign policy has been nothing but the opposite.

While vowing to end “endless wars,” President Trump has failed to effectively remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan or Iraq, or even Syria, and has only escalated low footprint engagement in the region. In 2019, President Trump vetoed a war powers resolution which would have ended U.S. support for the devastating Saudi-led war in Yemen. And in early 2020, President Trump ordered the assassination of Iran’s top military commander, Qassem Soleimani, seemingly in contravention of the Law of Armed Conflict which has generally barred the killing of foreign government officials outside of wartime since the Hague Convention of 1907.

That Senator Rand Paul stated, “I’m supporting President Trump because he believes as I do, that a strong America cannot fight endless wars,” seems at odds with the actual record of the Trump Administration. And while Paul pointed to former Vice President Joe Biden’s support for the Iraq War, he neglected to mention that before he opposed it, President Trump supported the war as well.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s RNC speech was delivered with deliberate political symbolism from Jerusalem, after the Trump Administration moved the U.S. embassy to the city recognizing it as the capital of Israel (and lessening any possibility of a meaningful political settlement to the occupation of Palestine). The speech outraged diplomats and elected officials alike, who argued that Pompeo was acting in his official capacity as Secretary of State while campaigning for the president, something barred by the Hatch Act of 1939.

Pompeo praised President Trump for having “lowered the temperature” in North Korea after his summit with Kim Jong-un as an example of the President’s commitment to diplomacy. And while one would not expect the RNC to feature the administration’s failures, Pompeo openly praised President Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal and his maximum pressure campaign on the Iranian economy, his exit from the Open Skies Arms Control Treaty with Russia and other European partners, as well as his bellicose rhetoric toward a rising China, all of which have struck a blow against efforts toward international diplomacy.

The Republican Party has decided against releasing a 2020 party platform, instead opting to pass a resolution revitalizing what delegates wrote in 2016, and effectively deferring to President Trump’s priorities for the party’s platform. The party’s approach to foreign policy is increasingly tailored to President Trump’s individual motivations.

Indeed, it was just this winter that President Trump was impeached for leveraging congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine to urge the country to begin a politically-motivated investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. Not a single Republican Congressperson supported the impeachment, and only one Republican Senator voted for one of the charges.

After the Trump Administration’s decision to exit the Paris Agreement, it is perhaps unsurprising that the RNC did not focus on climate change as the most imminent national security challenge and threat to organized human life. And while many RNC speakers claimed that President Trump has revitalized respect for the United States around the world, his presidency has in fact hurt international approval of U.S. leadership, even amongst close allies.

In the age of COVID-19 security, as notions of artificial separation between domestic and international politics fall away, the international significance of bold domestic action against crises including COVID-19 and climate change has become clear. The Trump Administration’s abject failure to respond to the coronavirus with the veracity demanded by the moment has left more Americans dead than in World War I. Indeed, only aggressive action on the scale of the Green New Deal will be sufficient to tackle the climate crisis. Both of these issues have had and will continue to have profound implications for international relations.

But the Republican Party’s commitment to privatization, embrace of powerful special interests, and ostensible contempt for the federal government have made addressing these kinds of challenges nearly impossible. And President Trump’s destructive foreign policy and rejection of humane international engagement couldn’t embody those contradictions better. 

Solomon Bennett is a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying political science and international relations.






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