Thu, Apr 25, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Trump’s foreign policy ‘is not that bad’

Former US ambassador and deputy national security adviser Robert Blackwill is one of the few who believes Donald Trump’s foreign policy is ‘better than it seems.’ In an interview, he grades the US president’s performance in areas from China to NATO

By Tobin Harshaw  /  Bloomberg Opinion

Illustration: Mountain People

This column spends a lot of time looking into the latest disagreements of the foreign policy establishment: the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Wilson Center, the Brookings Institution and countless others.

Here is a rare treat: Nearly all of these think tanks, educational institutions, grant providers and assortments of cranky old foreign-service employees have finally united on a common opinion: US President Donald Trump is the greatest blow to US foreign relations, allied unity and just plain manners in the history of the republic.

So, who disagrees? Robert Blackwill, for one.

Blackwill, a former US ambassador to India and deputy national security adviser for strategic planning, current senior fellow at the CFR and distinguished academic at the Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at Johns Hopkins University, author of War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft, and all around Scowcroftian straight shooter, has written a new study for the council titled Trump’s Foreign Policies Are Better Than They Seem.

That headline is not exactly a rabid endorsement, but it is still enough to set the aforementioned establishment on its ear.

Blackwill and I discussed it last week; here is a lightly edited version of our interview:

Tobin Harshaw: Let’s start with this special report. What prompted you to do this? At an event the other day at the Council on Foreign Relations, you talked about your disappointment with the press and how it had piled on Trump reflexively rather than look at what you see as some global achievements.

Robert Blackwill: I had a growing feeling that the pundits and the news media, even the reputable outlets, were looking primarily at his character and his lack of process, without examining the policies in a detailed, objective way, so last November, I decided to write something about this. I ended up with 35,000 words.

TH: So you gave him letter grades at the end of every analysis of the major issues. Why?

RB: The notion of grading him came pretty late in the process, but I chose to do so especially since he has graded himself — with an A-plus of course.

TH: The title of the essay includes the “better than they seem” caveat, so it seems like a bit of a backhanded compliment. Explain how you went about grading him on a curve.

RB: I compare it to his policies — not his tweets — and how I thought they registered with respect to the US national interest. That was my only criterion.

I think on the issue of American values, he gets an F pretty easily, if you look at what he has said — his assault on democratic institutions and alliances.

TH: Let’s talk about what I think are going to be some of the most controversial grades. You give China policy a B-plus, so given the near-universal condemnation in the West of the trade war and how friendly personally he has been with [Chinese President] Xi Jinping (習近平), what do you think has done right?

RB: Well, he has departed dramatically from the policies of his three immediate predecessors.

As China has risen in the world, all of them talked about partnership, even strategic partnership, with China, but China was stealing billions in intellectual property from the United States, threatening Taiwan, undermining our alliances and so forth.

Trump has portrayed a different picture of China, which is that it seeks to replace the US as the primary power in Asia. And it’s attempting to develop a grand strategy to accomplish that. That’s an enormously important change.

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